Emmanuel Macron came out on top in the first round vote of a presidential election that will pit the centrist incumbent against another political “outsider”, the National Front’s Marine Le Pen.
Nevertheless, polling collected on the day of the French vote reveals weak spots in Mr Macron’s armour. The independent candidate, whose new party En Marche! is only a year old, lags behind his opponent when it comes to attracting younger and less affluent voters. His support is also not as solid as that of his far-right rival.
Here are four takeaways from Sunday’s numbers, revealed by exit polls:
Le Pen captured the youth vote
Ms Le Pen was the most popular candidate among younger and prime-age voting groups, according to an exit poll of 9,010 voters by OpinionWay. The National Front (FN) candidate even beat the far-left independent Mr Mélenchon — who made innovative use of social media and technological wizardry on the campaign trail — among the 18-34 and 35-49 age groups.
Economic frustration has driven young people from their traditional affiliation with the left to the far-right populist party; youth unemployment continues to hover around 25 per cent, roughly double that of the UK and up from 18 per cent in 2008. However, Mr Macron’s optimism has still resonated with students. He beat the other main contenders to take just over 30 per cent of their vote.
Among older voters, rightwing Catholic Mr Fillon won the highest vote share — a whopping 40 per cent — while Mr Macron came second with nearly 27 per cent. Now that Mr Fillon has been knocked out of the race, this leaves a large slice of the conservative elderly vote up for grabs in the second round run-off.
Le Pen of the people will take on Macron of the professionals
The data paint a picture of Mr Macron’s supporters as wealthy professionals, while Ms Le Pen is favoured by those in lower income brackets and manual labourers.
Among the top earners — those making more than €3,500 a month — Mr Macron succeeded in taking nearly 36 per cent of the vote, according to on-the-day polling by BVA. For Ms Le Pen, that share was 12 per cent. Among those in the lowest earning bracket, Ms Le Pen was the most popular candidate, closely followed by Mr Mélenchon.
Similarly, Mr Macron enjoyed favourable polling figures among high-level professionals. The former investment banker at Rothschild has run a business-friendly campaign, calling for a reduction in corporation tax and increased labour market flexibility.
Ms Le Pen, whose populist campaign has included promises to promote “intelligent protectionism” and introduce strict immigration quotas, appealed instead to manual labourers.
Macron benefited most from the socialist collapse
Mr Macron scooped up voters from the left of the political spectrum, OpinionWay data show, benefiting from disarray in the Socialist party after it veered towards the far left with the nomination of Benoît Hamon. But the centrist — who has campaigned for an agenda he claims to be “neither left nor right” — failed to win over as many voters from the flailing centre-right party.
More than 45 per cent of those who voted for President François Hollande in the first round of the 2012 election said they voted for Mr Macron in this year’s election — compared with 18 per cent who this year opted for Mr Hollande’s successor as official Socialist candidate, the more radical Mr Hamon. Mr Mélenchon, the independent far-left candidate, also made strong gains among 2012 Hollande voters.
The centre-right Republican party lost part of its voter base — albeit a smaller slice than the Socialists did — after nominee Mr Fillon became embroiled in a spate of scandals over funding and conflict of interest.
Nearly two-thirds of supporters of the 2012 centre-right candidate and former president Nicolas Sarkozy continued to back party candidate Mr Fillon in 2017. But the remainder of Mr Sarkozy’s vote split fairly evenly in 2017 between Mr Macron, who took about 17 per cent, and Ms Le Pen, with nearly 13 per cent.
Macron voters are the least loyal
While an FN presidency is highly unlikely, according to second-round polling, the data from the first round show Mr Macron’s voter base is far shakier than that of Ms Le Pen.
Only 54 per cent of those who voted for him said he was their preferred candidate rather than a tactical choice, while only 65 per cent said he was their top pick for president rather than, for example, the “least bad” candidate.
Ms Le Pen, on the other hand, has a more reliable support base and 80 per cent of those who voted for her actively want her to be president. This suggests there is still much to play for.
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