French Right Poised for Strong Showing as Voters Express Discontent in Upcoming Elections

June 30, 2024 by No Comments

FRANCE – This Sunday’s French elections are expected to see a significant shift towards the right, potentially resulting in the most conservative parliament since World War II, according to experts.

This shift is attributed to voter dissatisfaction with immigration, a weak economy, the rising cost of living, and discontent with the current centrist government, particularly among younger voters.

“France is witnessing a major shift to the right,” said Matthew Tyrmand, an advisor to conservative political candidates and parties across Europe. “This is democracy in action—people are fed up and won’t tolerate it anymore.”

Tyrmand continued, “They are frustrated with their isolated Parisian leadership, who enjoy the benefits of the EU while their cities face issues like high youth unemployment, rising crime, racially motivated attacks, and violence against native French citizens.”

These same factors propelled the right-leaning National Rally to secure 31.4% of the vote, the highest share for any French party in the recent European Union elections. Founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen in 1972, the National Rally has undergone a transformation under the leadership of Le Pen’s daughter Marine, with the party now led by 28-year-old Jordan Bardella.

Uncontrolled immigration, exceeding 320,000 last year, including undocumented migrants, has fueled anxiety among many French voters. “It’s more about instability and violence than immigrants taking jobs from the French,” explained Leo Barincou, a senior economist at Oxford Economics in Paris. “There have been high-profile crimes linked to immigrants, leading to a rejection of immigration.” These incidents include terrorist attacks, murders, and assaults. Another factor driving voter opposition to increased immigration is the cost of social benefits borne by taxpayers.

The threat of violence may be a significant factor motivating younger voters to demand deportation of some immigrants. This sentiment has resonated strongly, even inspiring a popular song among Gen-Z (ages 11-26) distributed on social media with lyrics like “I won’t leave, Yes, you will leave. And sooner than you think.”

The economy under [President’s name] has also faltered. The cost-of-living crisis triggered by the invasion of Ukraine pushed inflation to 6.3% in February last year, although it has since fallen to 2.1%. Youth unemployment remains stubbornly high. Furthermore, the rate of home construction has declined over the past decade, making renting more expensive for young people. “Whoever is in charge during a cost-of-living crisis will bear the brunt of the blame,” said Konstantinos Venetis, director of global macro at TS Lombard in London. “When voters complain, those waiting to take power have an advantage.”

However, Venetis acknowledges that France’s economy is not significantly worse than other major EU countries, such as Germany and Italy, and may even be better. “This year is expected to be the year the economy bottoms out,” he said, suggesting that economic growth is likely to improve. This improvement may be fueled by increased government spending, potentially even at the EU level.

Despite this, many younger voters and those living in rural areas heavily supported the National Rally in the recent elections, and a similar outcome is expected this time. “The far right came in first in almost every area,” said Barincou. Paris, known for its progressive urban population, was one of the few exceptions. This aligns with the long-held notion that professionals in large cities tend to lean politically progressive.

The National Rally’s strong youth appeal may stem from Bardella’s youthfulness, as he not only connects with younger voters but is also just slightly older than many in the Gen-Z cohort. “I’m not surprised he’s popular with younger voters,” said Marc Chandler, chief market strategist at Bannockburn Global Forex in New York. “I remember the excitement among young people when former president Barack Obama, one of the youngest U.S. presidents, was elected.”

A National Rally-led parliament, if it were to materialize, would likely not lead to France leaving the EU or the Eurozone, according to Elias Haddad, a senior markets strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman. “If the right wing comes to power, the dynamics between France and the EU will become more complex, but it won’t threaten the monetary union,” he said.

Meanwhile, Marine Le Pen appears to be preparing for victory, suggesting that Bardella, as Prime Minister, should be involved in military defense decisions. While the French president is nominally the head of the armed forces, “The prime minister is responsible for national defense.”

The French parliamentary system involves up to two rounds of voting. If no party secures a majority in the first round, the top two parties will face off in a second vote, scheduled for July 7 if necessary. Current polls suggest that the National Rally could secure 37% of the vote.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.