Macron versus Le Pen: who has won the electoral debate, according to experts | International
Five French political experts and political analysts from Agenda Pública share their opinion on who has won the only electoral debate of the French presidential campaign, whose second round is held on Sunday. The president and centrist candidate, Emmanuel Macron, favorite in the polls, has faced the extreme right candidate, Marine Le Pen, who for the first time sees the possibility of reaching the Elysee.
1. Bernardino León Reyes, Associate Professor at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po)
The winner was Marine Le Pen. The second-round presidential debates are not won by stealing votes from the rival, but by being the candidate who mobilizes the most abstentionists. In terms of tone, Marine Le Pen has won this debate for two reasons. First of all, she has managed to avoid the mistakes of 2017 that made her seem like a histrionic and radical candidate. In this debate, however, he has presented a more “reasonable” platform in the eyes of the French, as can be seen in the tangible proposals he has made (such as public transport for those under 25 years of age) and the moderation of his more controversial (such as criticizing some community programs instead of advocating a complete exit of France from the European Union, as it defended in 2017).
For his part, Macron has failed to correct the main reason he arouses antipathy – his arrogance – something that will hardly help him on Sunday. As for the battle of ideas, Le Pen has held up well in those areas where Macron had an advantage, such as the ecological transition or international politics, while she has rolled over on her issues: migration and security. As political science has shown, the center-right cannot compete with the radical right when it mimics their arguments (just what Macron has done these last five years). With this debate, Le Pen has a chance of mobilizing more abstentionists than Macron.
2. Javier Carbonell, associate professor at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris (Sciences Po)
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The triumph is for Macron. Both the president and Le Pen were on the hunt for the Mélenchon voter [Jean-Luc, el candidato izquierdista que quedó tercero en la primera vuelta], which is actually made up of two very different animals. On the one hand, Macron needed to “redemonize” Le Pen to ensure that the most educated, urban and “fool” (acronym for bohemian bourgeois in French), who was already planning to vote for him, do not abstain. His criticism of Le Pen on her economic dependency on Putin, his position on Europe and his “climate skepticism” seem likely to be enough to mobilize this electorate. On the other hand, Le Pen had it more difficult: he needed the most popular, working-class and anti-establishment de Mélenchon mobilizes on his behalf. For this reason, she has concentrated her discourse on identifying with the suffering of the French and on Macron’s social balance, which she has blamed, for example, for the increase in poverty. Le Pen has managed to appear closer and more presidential, but without being too inspiring. The level of technicality of the discussion, which sometimes seemed intended to make listeners abandon the debate, leaves us with a much more balanced result than in 2017. A balance that benefits the president since, in the end, the debates do not consist so much of mobilizing abstentionists as well as preventing those mobilized from abstaining.
3. Ruth Ferrero, Professor of Political Science at the Complutense University of Madrid
The winner has been Le Pen. Although Macron has been more solvent, and with a better knowledge of the different issues, he has had an attitude of permanent disdain towards his adversary evidenced through non-verbal language, which could have played against him by showing obvious arrogance. Macron has correctly defended his management, but from a reactive position in the face of his opponent’s interventions, which reduces his effectiveness.
Le Pen, with a vaguer speech, has been more effective among his potential voting grounds. Le Pen is very clearly addressing the popular classes and vulnerable groups. He openly seeks the vote of the left in the running. She has presented herself to them as the sensible candidate, that of the French citizen in the street. She has used for it a sustained predictable discourse on French patriotism. She has criticized the uberization of the economy, low wages or poverty through a studiously moderate speech so as not to scare the voter. His main weak points: relations with Moscow and his vagueness on the most technical issues, which have not been sufficiently exploited by Macron. Macron has failed to mobilize Mélenchon’s vote, decisive in Sunday’s elections. In this sense, Le Pen has been much more effective and comes out of the match stronger.
4. Lianne Guerra, analyst and editor of The Grand Continent
Emmanuel Macron once again emerged victorious in this debate: he confronted Marine Le Pen with her inconsistencies ―climate skepticism, the justification for her stance on the war in Ukraine, her status as a hostage under a loan from a bank close to the Kremlin and the vote against the tariff cap to avoid increases in gas prices. The profuse discussion about bonuses, salaries and purchasing power revealed the macronist arrogance; But the use of complexity, which Macron controls so well, ended up caricaturing Le Pen and subjecting his program to constant scrutiny. “Overseas territories are not international affairs”, macronista deadly lunge in the middle of the defense of foreign policy. The counterattack came when Le Pen, during the debate on education, managed to say: “In his vision, everything stops in the big cities.”
In contrast to 2017, when she was humanly fragile and aggressive, Le Pen managed to maintain some presidential credibility by using calm, but without reaching the height of Macron’s pedagogical solidity. Le Pen’s determination was not enough to sharpen her immigration argument and her defense of secularism. In short, Macron’s security, with precise offensives, managed to put Le Pen on institutional and programmatic reforms, revealing his imposed moderation and the simplicity of his project in a panorama of growing interdependencies.
5. Juan Rodríguez Teruel, Professor of Political Science at the University of Valencia
Macron has won. Studies indicate that the French public tends to consider the candidate who was first in the polls as the winner. Therefore, the debates are usually innocuous, or reinforce previous tendencies. This was a more difficult debate for the president than the one in 2017: he arrived worn out, and having lost the benefit of the doubt. Le Pen knew his own weaknesses and should a priori having avoided the mistakes of five years ago. Therefore, a more even debate was expected. But Le Pen has continued to show many of the defects of the previous meeting: little knowledge of politics and poor ability to respond to the opponent. Surely, his right-wing positions were not the most conducive to criticizing Macron’s modest social balance, his main weakness, something that Mélenchon would have taken better advantage of. In contrast, Macron has shown a galactic knowledge of the issues, and a manifest intellectual and dialectical superiority, which sometimes turned into arrogance. This will not allow him to recover the voters who reproach him for precisely those elitist traits, but he will be well received by those who continue to support him. And with this, Macron will probably maintain the slim majority that the polls continue to predict today.
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