The Right-wing leader is on course to gain young voters to next year's election
If it was left to youngish French people, Marine Le Pen would probably be elected President of the Republic next May. There has been a radical shift in her favour among French 25-34 year olds, according to a recent Elabe poll (figures confirmed in other surveys by Ipsos and Ifop).
The figures are disturbing if you fear a French lurch to the far-Right next year. They need to be read with caution. Younger and older age groups are more favourable to President Emmanuel Macron.
All the same, the poll says a great deal about the mood of France before next year’s election — and the possible direction of French politics in the 2020s and beyond.
Young people in Britain are disproportionately anti-Brexit and anti-Boris Johnson. Young people in France are now disproportionately prepared to vote for the Europhobic Le Pen and dismiss Macron’s arguments for a strong France in a strong Europe.
In both cases, that is partly driven by contempt for the certainties of an older generation — in Britain’s case anti-European nationalism; in France’s case, pro-European memories of two world wars.
The Elabe poll gives Le Pen 37% among 25-34 year olds in the first round of the elections next April and Macron only 17%. This is a big shift. In 2017, voters in the same age group were 28% pro-Macron and 24% Le Pen.
The numbers are explained partly, I think, by their anger and frustration after a year of precious youth sacrificed to Covid social restrictions. But youngish French people have been drifting away from “mainstream” politics and hand-me-down ideas for years.
In 2017, over 20% in the 25-34 age group voted for the hard-Left, nationalist fire-brand Jean-Luc Mélenchon. His support has now collapsed, according to the Elabe poll, to 14%.
The “young versus old” argument goes only so far. Similar polls taken by Ipsos and Ifop this month show that Macron is popular among first time voters aged 18-24. His first round support in this younger group is 29%, compared to 20% for Le Pen.
Neither of these age groups are especially reliable electors. Their turnout in presidential elections is around 67% compared to 75% for the country as a whole. Nationally, other polls put Le Pen and Macron neck and neck in first round at around 26% to 24% with Macron winning the 2nd round next May by circa 55-45% (compared to 66-34% in 2017).
All the same, the willingness of so many young French people to vote for a reformed Lepennism — cosmetically reformed — is striking. Much of France was once immunised against race-based, identity politics by the Second World War and by the outright anti-Semitism of Marine Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie. As the generations go by, memories fade. The immunisation wears off.
The likelihood is that Marine Le Pen will not become President next year. In 2027, when generational memories have faded further, France could be ripe for plucking by a populist, nationalist, Eurosceptic candidate. Who might that be? Look no further than Le Pen’s niece, Marion Maréchal.