A Real Choice for French Voters

This weekend, the French will be called to elect their next president out of 11 candidates. This French multi-party system is a shock to Americans, who are used to choosing between a Democrat and a Republican.

Despite the high number of candidates, the French presidential election offers voters a clear choice. Unlike all previous elections, the dividing line is no longer between right and left, but rather between what may be called an open society and a closed society. This line represents a new frontier.

The main candidates on the side of a closed society are Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Both support an authoritarian government with a hostile approach to Europe and the market economy. They are more accommodating with Russian and Chinese despots than with the United States. However, there is one important distinction between the two, in that Le Pen is xenophobic and anti-immigration, whereas Mélenchon is not.

On the side of an open society, we find Emmanuel Macron, François Fillon and Benoît Hamon. The third can be termed a social democrat, who favors government intervention and the liberalization of morals (particularly the legalization of cannabis, in the style of Colorado and Canada). Fillon is a pro-Europe, conservative classic liberal who takes after Margaret Thatcher. And Macron, the centrist outsider, embodies the renewal of the political class. He is a classic liberal in economic and moral terms, while pushing for restricted government intervention, closer to Reagan than Thatcher.

If we add up all polled voting intentions, we can see that half of French voters tend towards the revolutionary (Le Pen or Mélenchon). This swathe is unhappy with the current state of France. The other half (Hamon, Fillon or Macron) want to improve society, but not change it. The most astonishing revelation is that one third of voters are considering abstaining, maybe because they are struggling to find their place on either side of the new line between an open or closed society which has replaced the right-left distinction they were used to. Perhaps the candidates have failed to represent this division clearly.

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