Just days ahead of the second and final round of the presidential election on Sunday, supporters of Emmanuel Macron are multiplying their efforts to encourage voters to cast their ballots for the incumbent president. But even in a Parisian neighbourhood that voted 42.35 percent in favour of Macron in the first round, strong anti-Macron sentiment persists – particularly among supporters of far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who narrowly missed out on being one of the two presidential finalists.
“You take the odd numbers, we’ll take the even ones,” says Amaury Hoymans, 25, to the group of Macron supporters he has mobilised for a stint of door-to-door campaigning in an apartment complex in the 17th arrondissement (district) of Paris.
It’s 6:30pm, less than a week before the second round of the presidential election, which will see a repeat of the 2017 battle between centrist President Emmanuel Macron and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.
The evening starts well for Amaury and his co-campaigner, Alexandre, 30. The first door they knock on belongs to Jacqueline, 94, who voted Macron in the first round of the presidential election on April 10th.
“I don’t think anyone else could have handled things better than Macron,” she says. “Purchasing power has decreased for sure, but that is the case in other countries too. The Americans admire the state that France is in after Covid. What would Le Pen have done in his place? I’d like to know.”
“Thank you, Madam,” says Amaury. “That’s why we’re here, to spread the word.”
A key element of Macron’s campaign strategy has involved defending his five-year record in power. At rallies and public meetings throughout the campaign, he frequently talks of the recovery of France’s economy following the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic and the falling unemployment rate, which is at its lowest in 15 years (at 7.4%). His “whatever it takes” policy during the pandemic meant a huge injection of public money to keep the economy afloat.
‘There’s no point even coming here, everyone will vote Macron’
No one answers door number two, so Amaury and Alexandre leave a campaign leaflet on the doormat and move on.
The pair then visit Jean-Marc, 62, and his wife Nicole, 64, both Parisians who plan to vote for Macron in the second round.
“There’s no point even coming here, everyone will vote Macron,” says Nicole. Jean-Marc adds: “Le Pen is forbidden from entering the building!”
“In this building, we’re against fascists. My father, who is 94, has asked me to vote on his behalf because he’s in a wheelchair. Never in his life would he want fascists in power. Do you know why? Because when he was young, he saw Nazis come to his farm in Bourgogne. He has never forgotten. He saw his friends killed because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“That’s why we need to fight,” adds Amaury.
Le Pen has tried to distance herself from her party’s Neo-fascist beginnings in the early 1970s. Her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, wrote in a 2005 edition of the far-right magazine Rivarol that the German occupation of France “was not particularly inhumane, even if there were a few blunders, inevitable in a country of 640,000 square kilometres”. He has also repeated, on several occasions, that the Nazi gas chambers were a “detail” of World War II history.
The elder Le Pen was forced out of the National Front in 2015 and in 2018 his daughter renamed the party the Rassemblement National (National Rally) as part of a rebranding effort aimed at softening its image.
‘Macron’s model will only lead to catastrophe’
But the campaigners do not meet with Macron voters at the next door they knock on. The far-left leader of La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) party, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, came in second in the 17th arrondissement, with 20.50% of the vote, and third nationally with 21.95%. And his voters have found themselves kingmakers in the second round of the election.
Thomas, 41, voted for Mélenchon but he says, “I’ve made up my mind, I will vote for Macron to block Le Pen coming to power. But I don’t endorse his policies at all.”
“What attracted you to Jean-Luc Mélenchon?” Amaury asks.
“He proposes another model of society,” replies Thomas. “Macron’s model will only lead to catastrophe. For example, relaunching nuclear power. How are we going to store radioactive waste?”
Macron wants to reinvest in nuclear power to reduce France’s dependence on fossil fuels and, particularly, on Russian oil and gas. He has not yet outlined detailed proposals on how to deal with the waste created by nuclear power stations.
While on the campaign trail in Charente-Maritime, Macron told FRANCE 24 that “some issues take time, we know that. But if we don’t invest or commit ourselves, they take even longer. It depends on how quickly science and technical innovation progress. I want it to happen as soon as possible.”
But for Thomas, this is not enough: “Relying on progress in engineering in the face of the climate emergency is naive.”
‘If I read that, it will discourage me from voting for Macron’
The debate heats up when Thomas’s partner Virginie, 39, gets home and they start discussing Macron’s social welfare policies.
“If I read that, it will discourage me from voting for Macron,” says Virginie, refusing to take a campaign leaflet.
“He’s suggesting that people work for unemployment benefits,” says Thomas.
Amaury cuts in: “We don’t want to make people work for benefits,” he says, adding that it was traditional conservative candidate Valérie Pécresse, who did not make it to the second round, who floated that proposal.
“We want to guide the unemployed towards employment. Work leads to independence. I think most people would rather work than be jobless.”
As part of his goal to reach “full employment” – or an unemployment rate of 5% or less – Macron wants to make unemployment benefits conditional on recipients doing 15 to 20 hours of interim work per week. When proposed at a press conference in March, the policy led to a backlash. His minister of labour, Élisabeth Borne, soon clarified that this did not amount to doing work “without being paid”. Rather, the hours in question would involve training workshops and classes designed to improve the chances of being hired.
“I think when we help, we don’t ask for anything in return,” says Thomas. “It’s a disgusting societal model. I’m really angry about the policies brought forward by this government.”
“I’ll vote for Macron for my friends of Arabic and other origins, but I’m completely against his policies,” says Virginie.
The 20-minute debate ends with everyone wishing each other a good evening. But later Amaury admits that he could have handled the situation better. “Sometimes we can accidentally come across as arrogant to the people we exchange with,” he says. “We often only have a second to express an idea and so sometimes it sounds too aggressive.”
‘A huge difference between Le Pen and Macron’
As the door-to-door session draws to an end, 50-year-old Salima, who also voted for Mélenchon, answers the door.
“The people we know are unsure what to do,” she says. “There are those who say there’s no way Le Pen can get in, but they’re not satisfied with Macron’s five years in power. So, they have a choice: not to vote, or to vote for someone they don’t like. For me, there’s a huge difference between Le Pen and Macron. I’ll be voting for Macron on Sunday.”
“Please don’t hesitate to talk to the people you know,” says Amaury, in the hope that Salima might persuade a few fellow Mélenchon supporters to vote for Macron – or at the very least, not to vote for Le Pen.
Over the space of an hour, the eight Macron campaigners knocked on around 200 doors, of which 80 were answered. Measuring the effectiveness of door-to-door campaigning in persuading people to vote for a certain candidate is extremely difficult, but the process does allow the campaigners to gather viewpoints and information that later help shape strategy.
“What we hear on the ground while we’re campaigning, we communicate to our bosses in the party,” Amaury says.