Turn Out For What?
Apathy and Abstentions Could Decide the French Race

In ten days, the French will go to the polls in a closely watched election that could decide France’s commitment to NATO and its future in the European Union. Despite the high stakes, however, many undecided French voters can barely muster the enthusiasm to show up. Reuters:

Opinion polls show around a third of France’s 45.7 million voters might abstain, an unprecedented number in a country with a long tradition of high turnouts. Even among those who intend to vote, about one third have yet to make up their mind on how to cast their ballot. […]

Across France, voters of all political stripes have been telling Reuters they’re not sure what to make of it all.

“I don’t even know if I will vote at all this time,” said Lungeri, the 38-year-old carer from Nice who was traditionally a mainstream right voter. “They’re all corrupt.” […]

“This election is just unbelievable,” a minister in the Socialist government said on condition of anonymity. “What strikes me, even beyond the high abstention, is how impossible it is to make forecasts: people waver between Fillon and Melenchon, between Le Pen and Macron, based on the most bizarre reasoning.”

Turnout in the second round has long been considered a decisive factor in this election, the wild card that could propel Marine Le Pen to an improbable victory. But the picture painted here is even more worrying, suggesting that apathy, voter abstention and protest votes could eliminate her mainstream opponents in the first round.  The current scenario spooking markets is that soft support for Macron and Fillon would lead to a runoff between Le Pen and Mélenchon: a showdown between two Euroskeptic populists on opposite fringes of the political spectrum.

That is still not the most likely scenario, but a decade ago it would have been considered unthinkable; France’s two-tiered electoral system, after all, was designed to prevent the rise of extremist candidates. Whether or not such safeguards hold this time, the French electorate is in a decidedly pessimistic mood—and it will take more than a narrow win by Macron or Fillon to convince disillusioned citizens that elites have their best interests in mind.

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