In challenge to Macron, the largest electoral bloc in France could be the abstainers

CLICHY-SOUS-BOIS, France, April 5 (Reuters) – Capucine Blond is set to vote in her first presidential election on Sunday, but the disconnect the French teenager feels with the ruling elite is so great that she has decided that it was of no use.

Blond, 18, who earns 500 euros a month working on a short-term contract at her town hall, said she doubted any of the candidates would improve their job prospects to the point where they could afford to leave his mother’s house.

She is not alone. Pollster Ipsos predicted last month that a record number of voters would abstain in this month’s election, which if confirmed would increase the likelihood of a surprise, analysts said.

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“For me, politics, politicians, all that is always debates that are not constructive because no one listens to each other and it never leads to anything,” said Blond, who lives in Arras, in the north of the country.

Politicians lived “outside the everyday reality” and were unable to make meaningful change, she said.

History has shown that the higher the abstention rate on the first ballot, the fewer hurdles candidates have to clear to qualify.

The presidential race appears to be a repeat of the 2017 duel between incumbent President Emmanuel Macron and far-right challenger Marine Le Pen. This time, however, polls suggest closer competition, with Macron’s projected margin of victory in the second round within the margin of error.

“The main challenge for Macron remains a potential lack of voter mobilization against Le Pen in the second round,” political risk group Teneo wrote in a briefing note.

French election turnouts have been on a downward trend since the 1980s. In 2017, more than a fifth of French voters missed at least one turn, according to data from the Interior Ministry. A disproportionate number of them were young people, according to the official statistics office of INSEE.

Ipsos predicts that nearly a third of voters may not participate in this month’s election. It would be a record for a presidential vote in France and exceed the number of votes for any candidate.

Among 18-25 year olds, 42% say they do not vote, according to an IFOP poll.

“The largest political party in France is Les Abstentionnistes,” said Mehdi Bigaderne, deputy mayor of the working-class Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, where around 40% of voters, twice the national average, voted abstained from at least one round in 2017.

WEAKENED BEFORE

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While younger voters have often engaged in issues such as climate change, Bigaderne said abstainers shy away from party politics because of a lack of interest or because politicians are seen as unable to improve. their life.

Additionally, advocacy group A Vote estimates that nearly 8 million voters are misregistered and unable to vote, often young people traveling for work or college.

Theater graduate Louis Labarthette, 25, voted for Macron in 2017 to keep Le Pen out of power, but said he felt disappointed with the former investment banker’s performance during his tenure in office. five years.

“I don’t feel represented by any of the candidates,” Labarthette, who now works in a restaurant kitchen, told Reuters.

Twelve candidates are running for the presidency. Among them are two far-right candidates, a communist, a far-left veteran and candidates from the embattled traditional center-right and center-left parties.

Ibrahim Gassama, 29, is old enough to remember 2002, when low turnout helped Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of the far-right National Front, surprise France by reaching the second round. It was pushed out of power by the mainstream left and right uniting behind conservative Jacques Chirac, a phenomenon known as the “republican front”.

In the following elections, Gassama said he would hear that it was important to vote against a Le Pen presidency. But he won’t this year, and polls indicate that any “Republican front” in the second round will be weaker than in the past.

Gassama said he disapproved of Macron’s handling of the COVID pandemic and found that some Macron ministers were even more right-wing than Le Pen. As a result, he was no longer prepared to vote tactically and would vote blank, he said.

“I don’t want to tolerate someone I don’t like because there’s someone I like even less,” Gassama said. “If France has to spend five years with a president I don’t like, too bad.”

(Story refiled to correct spelling of “disapproved” in penultimate paragraph)

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Reporting by Makini Brice and Yiming Woo; additional reporting by Michaela Cabrera and Elizabeth Pineau; edited by Richard Lough

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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