'May 7th without me': Could the second round be hit by mass abstention?

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'May 7th without me': Could the second round be hit by mass abstention?
Photo: AFP

Whether it's those who dislike both Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen or those who think there's no point voting because it's a certainty or perhaps even those who will prefer to head away for the long weekend rather than stay and vote, the second round could be hit by a wave of abstentions.


Now that the French are faced with a clear choice between anti-EU and anti-globalization Marine Le Pen and Pro-EU, pro-free market Emmanuel Macron it's unlikely there will be many, if any, undecided voters.

The battle lines between the pair could not be more clearly marked out.

But that doesn't mean everyone in France is happy with the selection of final round candidates. And it certainly doesn't mean everyone is going to vote.

Which Marine Le Pen will be quite happy about.

In 2002 the French took to the streets to protest against the place of Jean-Marie Le Pen in the second round vote and three million more people turned out to vote in the second round.

But in 2017 they took to Twitter to warn that they would abstain for the second round vote.

The hashtag #SansMoiLe7Mai, which literally means “Without Me on May 7th” has been trending since Monday morning.

Many voters said they would refuse to cast a ballot in the second round on May 7th because they did not want either Le Pen or Macron.

Many tweets referred to the "fascist Le Pen and the banker Macron".

"#SansMoiLe7Mai In the second round I won't vote for either Le Pen the fascist or Macron the banker. Let's go to hell and see what happens next," said the tweet.

The tweet like most of those posted under the hashtag appeared to be from leftist voters unhappy that neither Jean-Luc Melenchon or Benoit Hamon made the run off vote.

Those on the far left may struggle to join the so-called “Republican Front” (the left and right versus the far right) against Le Pen, because for them, Macron represents banks and finance and is therefore a sworn enemy.

“Between Le Pen, a racist and xenophobe, and Macron, who is about finance and free markets, it's a choice between the plague and the cholera,” said French political expert Thomas Guénolé, when analysing the choice ahead for leftist voters.

But it's worth pointing out that many others took to Twitter to blast those who were talking of abstaining and warn them of the dangers it poses.

Whoever wins the Twitter battle Macron should perhaps not expect to benefit from the kind of support that Jacques Chirac was able to mobilize in 2002, when he won 82 percent of the vote.

Mélenchon’s supporters are most likely to abstain in the crucial second round, according to a survey by French consulting firm Odoxa-Dentsu. Forty one percent of the far-left candidate’s supporters say they would prefer not to vote at all than to chose between two political visions they so strongly oppose.

Melenchon refused to join the chorus of politicians asking voters to block Le Pen. He has since been heavily criticized.

A Harris interactive poll said a third of François Fillon's voters would also abstain, while one in five of Hamon's supports will stay away from the ballot box.

One Hamon supporter, a 24 year old photographer named Hugo Bacoul, told The Local, “We can’t let someone like Le Pen get into power. Macron is not much better. He is just not as bad.”

Both Hamon and Fillon have called on voters to back Macron.

Apart from the angry abstainers refusing to give their vote to either candidate, there fears that many voters will just stay away confident that Le Pen won't win.

Unlike in 2002 when Le Pen's appearance in the second round was an almighty shock, in 2017 French voters are used to her or her party being in the second round and then losing. 

"The very worst scenario – and the most dangerous and irresponsible one for the future of France – would be to assume that an eventual Macron victory was a certitude," wrote Jérôme Fenoglio, director of Le Monde newspaper.

It's also been pointed out that May 7th is a long weekend in France, due to Monday May 8th being a public holiday. Traditionally many French head away for the weekend and they will do so again this year. Those who feel a civic duty will have set up a proxy vote to allow someone else to cast their ballot but many others won't have for the reasons stated above.

"The risk of mass voter abstention – given that the second round falls on the Sunday of a long weekend – is also significant. Macron now has less than 15 days to prove to reluctant voters that he understands the magnitude of the shock suffered by the French political system," wrote Fenoglio.

Analysts also expect a record number of "blank votes" to be cast this year. In 2012 there were two million.

In the first round the abstention rate was around 21 Percent, but it is expected to be significantly higher on May 7th.

All this of course is expected to help Marine Le Pen.

But Macron currently has a 20 percentage point lead over Le Pen in the polls so even with many abstentions he should still make it across the finish line comfortably.

But that doesn't mean the former investment banker has been given a true mandate from voters.

He will have a lot of people to win over.

by Blyth Brentnall / Ben McPartland





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