Emmanuel Macron will face far-right challenger Marine Le Pen in the second round of the French election on April 24, with polling suggesting a much tighter final race than in 2017.

Here is what the first round results tell us so far.

Macron won the first round by a reasonable margin — but the second round predictions are worrying for him

Macron and Le Pen secured their place in the second round with 27.8 per cent and 23.2 per cent of the votes respectively, according to Ministry of Interior results. The gap between them is slightly wider than in 2017, with Macron 4.6 percentage points ahead of Le Pen, up from 2.7.

But whereas in 2017 Macron beat Le Pen by 66 per cent to 34 per cent in the second round, two polls released after Sunday’s first round suggested the run-off on April 24 will be very tight. Macron is forecast to win 52-54 per cent of the vote, while Le Pen would secure 46-48 per cent.

Meanwhile, far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who had hoped to make a surprise entry into the run-off, came third with 22 per cent in the first round. Extreme-right candidate Eric Zemmour, who at one point was polling higher than Le Pen, only got 7.1 per cent. Conservative candidate Valérie Pécresse, once tipped as the woman who could unseat Macron, managed a meagre 4.8 per cent.

The second-round result will depend on each candidate’s ability to win over voters who did not support them in the first round. Polling after Sunday’s vote suggests that Macron will mainly benefit from Pécresse, Mélenchon and Yannick Jadot voters backing him.

But a large chunk of Mélenchon’s voters are either planning to stay at home on election day or considering backing Le Pen at the far end of the political spectrum — both scenarios that could prove problematic for Macron. Le Pen also stands to gain votes from extreme-right candidate Zemmour and from Pécresse on the right.

The centre holds — but candidates on the far-right of the political spectrum also increased their share of the vote since 2017

Much has been written about the decline of the French left, but the results show that the centre-left was already weak going into this election and that in the past five years it is the centre-right candidates who have lost the largest vote shares. Les Républicains candidate Pécresse took less than 5 per cent of the first-round vote this year, whereas in 2017 François Fillon from the same party won 20 per cent of the first-round vote. The main beneficiaries this year were the frontrunners: far-right and centre candidates Le Pen and Macron.

Both Macron and Le Pen improved their vote share across large parts of France

Geographically, the first round of the 2022 election reinforces the patterns seen in the first round five years ago. Looking only at the vote split between the top five candidates in each department across both first rounds shows that Macron has improved his standing in the departments in the northern half of France and in particular in the Pays de la Loire region, home to France’s sixth-largest city Nantes, while he still struggles in the south.

For Le Pen, the opposite pattern is true, with her vote shares improving the most in the centre of France towards the south. One of her strongest improving regions is Nouvelle-Aquitaine in the south where the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) movement was strong.

Macron and Le Pen’s core voters have not changed dramatically since the first round in 2017

Focusing on the rising cost of living, especially fuel prices, appears to have helped Le Pen to increase her vote share in areas where a high proportion of people rely on their cars to get to work. However, she has not managed to dramatically broaden her voter base across the labour force, income groups or education levels.

Education remains a strong predictor. The higher the proportion of people with a masters degree in an area, the less likely it is that Le Pen is the most popular candidate.

The same pattern is clear when comparing the top 500 communes where Le Pen and Macron have the highest vote shares. Le Pen’s voters are much more likely to have no education beyond the age of 15. The majority of her strongholds also had above average unemployment in 2018 (the latest available commune-level data), while Macron’s core voter base was typically in areas with average or low unemployment.

This early look at the data suggests that Macron will need to do more to convince people in poor rural areas with low education levels and high unemployment that he is also their president. Meanwhile, Le Pen’s greatest challenge will be to widen her appeal to the highly educated and wealthy living in cities, who have been less affected by rising fuel prices and the wider cost of living crisis.

Both will also have to seek to win over another portion of the electorate: those who are tempted to abstain in the second round either out of frustration with the rerun of 2017 or to send a message. Abstention was 25 per cent this time versus 22 per cent in 2017.

Additional data and graphics work by Joanna S Kao, Ændra Rininsland, Martin Stabe and Justine Williams

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