Recently, moderate business-friendly candidate Emmanuel Macron defeated the far-right nationalist candidate Marine Le Pen in the French election. In many ways, the French election appeared very similar to our own, involving centrist candidates, xenophobia, and a plethora of misinformation. So why then did the French not only deviate from the U.S. electorate, but give Macron an overwhelming victory over his opponent while Le Pen’s American counterpart claimed a narrow victory?
The answer lies in a French electorate that did not readily embrace misinformation and recognize the xenophobic nature of Le Pen and her party, as well as due to a centrist candidate that, though did not inspire much enthusiasm, did have the public’s trust, was not linked with the establishment, and was seen as the only viable option.
One of the most striking contrasts between the U.S. and French elections was the sharing of fake news stories. As reported by Bloomberg, “twice as many election-related links reposted by French users led to quality news stories as to various junk and fakes. In the U.S. last year, the ratio was almost 1-to-1.” Here we see a clear divergence between the U.S. and French electorate.
Clinton was often on the receiving end of fake news that helped reinforce perceptions of her as untrustworthy and corrupt. As reported by The Washington Post, a fake news story accused Clinton of running a child-abuse racket out of a pizzeria. As ridiculous as the story sounds, it was convincing enough to lead people to post death threats to the owner, displaying the influence of even the most ludicrous fake news. Meanwhile, Macron also suffered from allegations of corruption, as Bloomberg reported Macron was accused online of having an offshore bank account. Still, fake news stories like this one were quickly debunked and not taken seriously by the French electorate.
Another great difference between the U.S. and French election was the voter’s response to the candidates’ association with xenophobia and racism. As reported by the New York Times, many French voters did not easily forget the history of Le Pen’s party, the National Front, and its association with “ex-collaborationists, right-wing extremists, immigrant-hating racists, and anti-Semites who founded it 45 years ago.” This again contrasts with the American electorate who did not appear to be as impacted by Trump’s scandals, whether they be opening his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants rapist and criminals, or his reluctance to denounce KKK member David Duke.
The New York Times goes on to report that despite Le Pen’s best effort to rid the stains from her party, many voters still saw her as far too radical. One French voter was quoted as stating, “There was no choice. I couldn’t vote for Le Pen. You’re not going to vote for the extremist.” These sentiments were in no small part due to Le Pen’s xenophobic rhetoric that often mirrored Trump’s own, though unlike the U.S. electorate the French were unwilling to turn a blind eye to it or embrace it.
One final similarity and difference between the U.S. and French election can be found in Macron and Clinton. Macron, like Clinton, was often seen aligned with the interest of big business, and inspired little enthusiasm among voters. Though Macron, unlike Clinton, was not plagued by any scandals or questions of corruption, and even a last minute hack of his campaign failed to produce any ammunition to damage his character according to the Bloomberg report.
Additionally, as reported by The New York Times, Macron, unlike Clinton, was not linked to the political establishment, running independently of the two major parties and making him an agent for change. This might be one of the most important reasons why Macron won and Clinton lost; as populism has spread globally, people have become disenchanted with an establishment they see as unwilling to help them. In response, they seek new alternatives to bring about true change.
The French and U.S. elections resembled each other in a multitude of ways, whether through the prevalence of fake news, similarities of the candidates, or the presence of xenophobia. In the end, though, both had radically different outcomes, mostly due to the French electorate’s distaste for misinformation and extremism as well as Macron’s ability to inspire confidence in his character.