“It’s going to be hard,” she told me. “As a Muslim, we’ll be forced to choose Macron out of a fear for the future instead of support for the person.”
Le Pen has called for an outright ban on wearing the Islamic veil in public—penalizing the way Fatima is dressed right now—but Fatima said she isn’t sure yet whether she’ll vote at all. “None of them keep their word, that’s just how it is,” she told me. “We just follow, and we suffer the consequences.”
A 20-minute ride east on the commuter rail line from central Paris, Noisy-le-Sec is exactly the sort of place that Macron hopes to carry in large numbers in the second round. Like much of the mostly working-class département of Seine-Saint-Denis, it’s home to a large population of immigrants and recent descendants of people born abroad. Turnout tends to be low and political disaffection runs deep, but when the city’s 40,000 residents do vote, they lean leftward. Noisy-le-Sec overwhelmingly backed left populist Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first-round—and in the runoff the last time around, voters heavily supported Macron over Le Pen, doing their part to uphold the so-called “Republican front” that also beat back the far right in 2002.
This time, though, Macron’s coalition is looking a lot flimsier.
Of course, a big factor is that a large share of France’s radicalized conservative electorate plan to vote for Le Pen. (Polls show a vast majority of first-round Éric Zemmour supporters, and many Valérie Pécresse supporters will shift their support to the RN candidate.)
And yet, opinion surveys also show a bloc of disillusioned and left-leaning voters withholding support for the incumbent, struggling to find the motivation to show up: people like Fatima alienated by politics in general; those harmed by Macron’s economic reforms and angered by his conservative turn on social policy; civil servants and public sector workers with simmering resentments over funding and the state of their workplaces; and those with sympathies for the Yellow Vest movement, protests that began in 2018 over a proposed hike in the fuel tax that evolved into mass protests decrying the rising cost-of-living and broader sense of neglect faced by residents of rural and peripheral France.
Largely ignored by Macron over the course of his five-year term, it’s these voters who could shape the outcome of the election.
Marie Laure Mallégol, 36, works in tech in La Défense, the central business district of the French capital, but she lives in Montreuil, a large city bordering Paris to the east. Like a majority of voters there, she cast a first-round ballot for Mélenchon, and while she voted for Macron in the runoff last time, she vowed not to do it again—just like her brother and her parents.
“It’s out of the question to vote for Macron again after the five years we’ve seen,” said Mallégol, whose parents immigrated to France from Haiti. “It’s up to white people to stand up and say no to fascism, but it’s not up to us to go and vote.”
When I asked about her anger toward Macron, she rolled off a laundry list of issues: the continued presence in government of Gérald Darmanin, the interior minister who once teased Marine Le Pen about going “soft” on Islamism in a nationally televised debate; the French state’s treatment of migrants in Calais; the passage of a law designed to crack down on “Muslim separatism”; a national security law that sought to penalize the filming of police officers before the measure was struck down by France’s Constitutional Court; members and allies of the government who have railed against wokisme and portrayed anti-racist rhetoric as an import from the United States. “He’s going to win, I hope he’ll win,”’ she said. “All the semi-normal white people in this country will go and vote for him, but it’ll be close.”
“The only thing that would maybe make me go vote for Macron,” Mallégol continued, “is if he recognized in front of everyone what’s happened and says, ‘It’s my fault, I put Le Pen at the center,’ but he’ll never do this.”
Macron’s economic reforms also have left-leaning voters feeling bitter. Like many in her age group, Romy voted for Mélenchon in the first round. The 26-year-old works in sales, earning €1,400 to €1,500 ($1,525 to $1,634) a month after taxes and Social Security contributions, and lives in the suburb of Lognes, 40 minutes east of Paris on the commuter train. She voted Macron in the last runoff but doesn’t plan on doing so again. Instead, she’s planning to cast a “blank ballot”—a protest vote meant to show her opposition to both options. “I think it’s bad to vote for a president through spite,” she said. “I believe in none of his ideas and almost nothing in his program or what he’s done over the last five years.”
She said Macron’s economic policies favor “people who already have a lot”—in particular, his move to transform the wealth tax, which used to apply to people with at least €1.3 million in assets, into a more limited levy on real estate. “I have pretty high taxes for what I earn, and today my purchasing power is basically zero,” Romy said.
She disagrees with Macron’s recent proposal to hike the retirement age from 62 to 65—widely seen as a way of consolidating support from right-wing voters ahead of the election, though he has since floated the possibility of reconsidering the measure. “I’ve been working since I was 16, and now I have to wait until I’m 65 [to retire]?”
Romy said the president’s reforms aimed at tightening access to unemployment benefits affected her mother, who was working a temporary job at a restaurant when the Covid lockdowns upended the sector. After the phase-in of the new rules, which gradually took effect in late 2021, her mom lost her rights to unemployment benefits.
Romy’s mother is an immigrant from Portugal and said neither of them would ever vote for the far right—but that the differences between Le Pen and Macron have blurred. “For me, on social issues, they’re about the same.”
She told me that she might vote for Macron if the polls show Le Pen within striking distance, but that either way, the debate is far removed from things that matter. “[My friends and I] care about the environment,” she said. “Politics today seem outdated and almost kind of infantile, it’s ‘he said that, she said that.’ In the meantime, the planet is burning.”
Another important source of anti-Macron sentiment is the public sector workforce. From health care and transportation to education and welfare, French public services play a fundamental role in many residents’ lives. While the country has largely avoided the type of direct privatizations that transformed the UK from the 1980s onward, French governments of various political stripes have progressively sought to keep funding in check in addition to introducing management techniques that come from the private sector. These pressures have intensified over the last several years, and it’s left many employed by the state feeling resentful toward the cabinet members and executive decision-makers who manage their work lives.
That includes people like Gabriel Lattanzio, a 37-year-old English teacher at a public high school in Les Lilas, a short bus ride from Noisy-le-Sec. He said he would never vote Le Pen—his first political experience was organizing high school classmates to protest Marine Le Pen’s father after he made it to the second round of the 2002 election, and he voted for Mélenchon in the first round this year. He also backed Macron in the 2017 runoff, but he’s not sure what he’ll do next Sunday.
Over the last few years, he said his job has gotten harder and harder. Covid has been an unforeseen challenge; his school has grappled with gang violence; and he’s been forced to take on new responsibilities—all without significant pay hikes and under an education minister who he said fails to recognize teachers’ hard work: “Our hierarchy’s authoritarianism and the repeated declarations describing teachers as incapable or lazy carry a lot of weight, as does [the fact that] high schools have been transformed by a lack of funding.”
Lattanzio speaks English fluently, has studied in the United States, and keeps an eye on American politics. He told me comparisons to Bernie Sanders supporters sucking it up and voting against Donald Trump fail to appreciate the nature of Macron—both in terms of his economic program and conservative social policies. “He’s no Biden,” Lattanzio said. “He’s like Thatcher. And it’s hard to vote for Thatcher.”
Claire, 28, a resident of Nantes, feels similarly. She passed a competitive exam to become a civil servant and just completed her two-year posting in the overseas territory of French Polynesia, but more recently decided to take a communications job in the private sector, in part because the pay and working conditions are more attractive. She voted for Macron in the 2017 runoff, but plans to cast a blank ballot this time.
“For me, it’s like choosing between the plague and cholera,” she said. “Over the last five years, Macron has governed without any recognition of the context in which he came to power. He’s just shat all over us.… It hurts to see what’s happened to public services.”
Still, Claire said she could be swayed if Macron announced a significant policy shift to the left—or if last-minute anxieties take hold. “Maybe I’ll change my mind out of fear of Le Pen’s [National Rally] party, but for now, I’ve decided to vote blank.”
Hostility runs especially deep among those with sympathies for the Yellow Vest movement—like Annie and Aïcha. They both live in Perpignan, a Mediterranean city with a fair share of socioeconomic problems that the National Rally party captured in the 2020 municipal elections.
Aïcha, who used to work in watchmaking but now gets by on workers’ compensation after a hand injury, said she’s voting for Le Pen. Angered by the repression of the Yellow Vests and the rollout of a nationwide health pass to fight Covid, she wanted Mélenchon to make the run-off but now just wants to kick out the current president. Besides, she said she’s been pleased by the new mayor of Perpignan, Le Pen’s former partner who has a leading role in the party, Louis Aliot.
“She won’t be good, but she’ll be better than Macron,” Aicha told me before referring to a few of Macron’s more celebrated turns of phrase. “Macron has been vulgar, telling us we just need to ‘cross the street [to find work],’ and saying he wants ‘to piss off’ the unvaccinated, it’s insulting.”
Her friend Annie also loathes Macron but can’t vote for Le Pen on principle: “I won’t vote for Marine Le Pen, because I’m an anti-fascist, and we all know that behind Le Pen, there’s fascism.”
Despite all the hesitation, there are other left-wing voters for whom the choice on April 24 isn’t complicated.
Lyes, a 51-year-old civil servant and payroll manager in Noisy-le-Sec who voted for Mélenchon, said there’s no doubt what he’ll do next. “I’m going to bitterly vote for Macron,” he told me on a busy avenue named for socialist Jean Jaurès, in front of a bakery selling baguettes and an array of sweets usually eaten around Ramadan. “I’m voting against Le Pen.”
After arriving in France at age 2, Lyes said he feels “more French than Algerian,” but that Le Pen in power would be dangerous for foreigners. As many French legal experts and human rights groups have noted, Le Pen has called for a bevy of measures that are harsher than what’s in place today: cutting off access to critical welfare programs for millions of non-French nationals; enhancing the legal basis for police to use deadly force; ending family reunification policies and birthright citizenship; imposing a legally dubious referendum that would override human rights protections by enshrining the principle of “national preference” into the Constitution.
When asked about other left-wing voters unsure about their vote, Lyes shook his head. “No, no, that’s silly.”