Whichever way you cut it – and as obvious as the observation may sound – the runoff vote that returned Emmanuel Macron to the Élysée Palace for a second term, with a score of 58.5% to Marine Le Pen’s 41.5%, showed France to be a divided country.
But it’s complicated.
Geographically, first. The vote for what was Jean-Marie Le Pen’s Front National and is now his daughter’s Rassemblement National (RN) has long been analysed this way, but the far-right party’s gradual normalisation has made this less salient.
France’s post-vote map shows Macron broadly enjoying support in Paris, the west, south-west and centre of the country, while Le Pen won overwhelmingly in swathes of her north and north-eastern heartlands and the Mediterranean south.
It’s traditional also to note that the RN does better in struggling rural and outer suburban France, and Macron duly won the big cities, scoring more than 80% in Paris, Nantes, Rennes and Bordeaux and 70%-plus in Lyon, Strasbourg, Toulouse and Lille.
But the president’s vote held up pretty well in a lot of smaller towns, too, and in many parts of the countryside Le Pen – although her scores there were generally higher – only managed to draw level. It looks a more complex picture than it used to be.
“The biggest divides are above all generational and social,” said Mathieu Gallard, the research director of the Ipsos France polling company. “A look at detailed commune by commune map shows the rural-urban split really does not correspond to reality.”
So what were those generational divides? Again according to Ipsos’s data, the youngest voters, aged 18 to 24, voted 61% for Macron – although 41% in that age bracket did not vote at all – with the 25-34-year-olds and 35-49-year-olds following suit, but by smaller margins – 51% and 53%.
The 50-somethings – perhaps the generation most alarmed by Macron’s pension plans – broke narrowly for Le Pen at 51%-49%, while the 60- and 70-pluses, with the most to lose from her economic policies, plumped 59% and 71% for Macron and turned out to vote in by far the largest numbers.
“So what we have is an older France that massively supported Emmanuel Macron, and a younger France that partially turned their backs on the vote,” the political analyst Jérôme Jaffré said. “It’s a major sociological gulf.”
In terms of income, the voting data broadly paints a picture of a wealthier, well-educated and contented France that voted for the incumbent, and a less well-off, less well educated and discontented France that cast its ballots for Le Pen.
According to the pollsters Elabe, 59% of voters who said they were “struggling to make ends meet” voted for the far-right contender; 41% opted for Macron. Of those who said they had no financial struggles, 66% chose Macron and 34% Le Pen.
Ipsos’s data on employment reflects the same broad picture: 59% of independent professionals, 77% of senior management, 59% of junior managers, teachers and healthcare workers, and 69% of pensioners voted Macron, whereas 57% of regular employees and 67% of blue-collar workers chose Le Pen.
Almost 75% of voters with a degree or other higher education qualification voted for the centrist incumbent, while more than 60% of those who did not have their baccaulauréat – or secondary-school leaving exam – chose Le Pen.
There was another divide: those who voted – including those who did so reluctantly – and those who, forced to choose between two candidates they disliked, did not. Turnout was just 72%, with abstentions at their highest in any second-round runoff vote in France since Georges Pompidou won in 1969.
What’s more, 8.6% of those who turned up at polling stations on Sunday went to the the trouble of not casting a ballot for either candidate, with 6.35% voting “blank” – not putting a ballot paper in their envelope – and 2.25% spoiling their ballot.
Taken together that means more than a third of registered voters in France – about 15 million people – did not express a choice. A 72% turnout may sound high by British or US standards, but it means Macron was elected by barely 38.5% of the electorate, and many of those who voted for him did so mainly stop the far right winning.
All of this makes Macron’s second term even more challenging than his first. Often accused of being “president of the rich”, he must prioritise policies that rebuild ties with those voters who stayed away or lent him their vote solely to block Le Pen.
It’s not just about policies, though. France might also be somewhat less divided if it did not have a two-round electoral system that left large parts of the population feeling wildly under-represented – as they will, again, in June’s parliamentary vote.
To make it to the second round, candidate MPs must score at least 12.5%, a bar that in the last parliament saw Le Pen’s party win just eight of the national assembly’s 577 seats and Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s far-left La France Insoumise (Unbowed France) 17.
That’s plainly recipe for division and conflict. Macron has promised to look into introducing more proportional representation into France’s politics, a measure that would necessarily promote compromise and consensus. Divided France’s voters need, as much as anything else, political choice.