Jolyon Howorth, Understanding The Macron Phenomenon – Analysis
Macron’s new party, with solid legislative win in France, could be revolutionary for integrating Europe
The Macron phenomenon is essentially threefold: statistical, political and programmatic.
The statistical story is paradoxical. Media projections of the Macron phenomenon suggested an overwhelming victory for the young president. In the first round of the French presidential election on April 23, Emmanuel Macron attracted more than 8.5 million votes, representing 23.8 percent of votes cast and 18 percent of registered voters. In the second round on May 7, he netted 20.7 million votes, 66 percent of votes cast, but still a minority, 43 percent, of registered voters. In the first round of legislative elections on June 11, Macron’s freshly minted party, La République en Marche, LRM, drawing support from across the political spectrum and in alliance with another centrist party, attracted only 7.3 million votes, representing 32 percent of votes cast and 15 percent of registered voters. In the second round, LRM elected 350 deputies, fewer than the 400 that had been predicted.
This was due to a record – and premonitory – rate of abstentions, over 57 percent. Analysts suggested that French voters drew back from giving Macron a “hegemonic majority,” conscious that serious opposition in the parliament is both necessary and healthy for democracy. In reality, the political culture of the Fifth Republic attaches overwhelming importance to the presidential ballot and tends to see parliamentary elections as confirmation of the presidential result. With a series of primaries and an electoral cycle in full swing since September 2016, many voters had seen enough of the ballot box. The distraught leaders of the two mainstream parties, as well as Marine Le Pen’s Front National, decimated by the Macron effect, vociferously questioned the legitimacy of Macron’s “majority.”
The political story is potentially revolutionary. Macron’s overt objective in running for the presidency was to destroy a two-party system that had seen socialists and conservatives alternate as presidential candidates for more than 50 years, to the detriment of a hypothetical center that struggled for visibility. Macron succeeded spectacularly in that ambition, creating a once unimaginable centrist tsunami.
Since the French Revolution, the French right, as theorized by the political scientist René Rémond, has comprised three camps: authoritarian/populist; liberal/conservative; counter-revolutionary/nationalist. The latter has traditionally constituted a noisy minority in French politics, but Marine Le Pen succeeded to a large extent, playing on popular anger against globalization and the European Union, in turning her father’s crypto-fascist movement into a following that could attract almost 11 million voters, or 34 percent of votes cast, in the presidential election’s second round, twice the number that had rallied to her father in 2002.