As French President Emmanuel Macron won an unexpectedly comfortable re-election over Marine Le Pen, leaders across the West breathed a sigh of relief. But a closer look at the results reveals cause for concern and raises an intriguing question: Can what Mr Macron has done – create a new party in the center and lead it to victory – happen elsewhere, even in the United States?
The French presidential election in 2012 was the last traditional battle between center-left socialists, the heirs of François Mitterrand, and center-right republicans, the heirs of Charles de Gaulle. François Hollande, the Socialist, won 28.6% of the vote in the first round, followed by Republican Nicolas Sarkozy with 27.2%. Together, these parties in the center had a significant majority of voters. Marine Le Pen’s far right National Front received 17.9%, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the far left, 11.1%, which received only 29%.
In contrast, the French election of 2022 marked the collapse of traditional center-right parties. The Republicans got only 4.8% in the first round, and the Socialists did even worse with 1.7%. As these parties withered, the outskirts flourished. With 22% of the vote, Mr Mélenchon doubled his share of the vote in 2012, while the far-right candidates Ms. Le Pen and Eric Zemmour together got more than 30%. Mr. Macron, who began the latest transformation of French politics by rallying a new party in mid-2017, succeeded 27.9% in the first round, a modest increase from five years earlier.
Overall, the Center’s share of the referendum in the first round fell from 55.8% in 2012 to 34.4% in 2022, while extremes rose from 29% to 52.2%. Mr. Macron’s victory obscured the weakening of France’s center and increasing support for its outskirts. If the French president stumbles in his second term, his country’s political system will be left without a popular center party, and the door may open for the extremist forces he has managed to keep at a distance.
Although there are many differences between the presidents of France and the United States, there is one important similarity: Like Emmanuel Macron, Joe Biden was elected to revive the center of his country’s politics. But unlike Mr Macron, Mr Biden did not understand why voters made him president. As a result, he has lost the trust of 1 in 5 Americans who voted for him less than two years ago.
The recently published Harvard-Harris poll reveals the magnitude of – and the reasons for – the president’s decline. In 2020, Mr. Biden majority support from key groups of fluctuating voters, including independents, moderates, suburbs and Hispanics. Since then, the approval of his performance as president of each of these key groups has dropped sharply to a level incompatible with his re-election. As the poll shows, the majority of these groups (and many others) reject his approach to key issues such as crime, immigration, public schools, and energy.
More than three-quarters of U.S. voters support bills that will significantly expand federal funding for public safety and help communities hire 100,000 additional police officers. More than 60% want the Keystone pipeline to be completed and become operational as part of a broader plan to increase energy supply and slow down the transition from fossil fuels. Eighty percent of Americans (including 77% of Democrats) believe that Title 42 Covid border restrictions should be extended, not scrapped, and 68% believe that the Biden administration’s immigration policies encourage illegal immigration. Six out of 10 Americans believe that new state laws restricting sex education in public schools make sense, and that left-wing attacks on them are exaggerated.
Mr. The bite does not perform better on the economy. Americans identify overwhelming inflation as their main concern, and they blame the administration, not Vladimir Putin, for rising prices at the pump and in grocery stores. Only 20% believe that their personal financial situation has improved under this president, while 48% say it is getting worse.
Right now, only 37% of Americans want Mr Biden to run for re-election, and political failures are just part of the reason. More than 6 out of 10 Americans have concluded that he is simply too old to do so, a total of 60% include moderates, 68% of independents, 69% of suburban residents and 73% of Hispanics.
At the same time, only 45% of Americans want Donald Trump to run again, and a race between Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump in 2024 may bid on the least popular combatants ever seen in a U.S. presidential contest. This could open the door to something we have not seen since Ross Perot in 1992 – a serious uprising from the center. In the Harvard-Harris survey, 58% of respondents said they would be willing to consider a “moderately independent” as an alternative to unattractive candidates from the big party.
Unlike in France, this strategy has never succeeded in the United States. But serious elected officials in both parties are beginning to wonder whether they should follow in the footsteps of Mr Macron.
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