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Macron won the debate—but Le Pen’s voters won’t care

Last night’s head-to-head debate between the two remaining candidates in the race to become the next French president was not a classic, but Emmanuel Macron landed the heaviest blows, writes Dr David Lees, Teaching Fellow in French Studies.

"The final televised debate of the French presidential election campaign, which took place on Wednesday evening, was by no means a classic affair. Marine Le Pen, leader of the extreme-right Front National party, who trails behind her rival Emmanuel Macron in opinion polls, went on the attack throughout the debate, with little real impact. Where Le Pen may have been expected to appear more presidential and dignified than her younger opponent, it was Macron who came across as the more statesmanlike, consistently keeping his cool in the face of Le Pen’s onslaught.

"Macron was clear and precise in outlining his own policies and programme, in opposition to Le Pen’s fierce attacks on his past as an investment banker and former Economics Minister under current president François Hollande. On issues where Le Pen would be expected to do better than Macron, she failed to land any serious blows. On policing, for example, Le Pen rehearsed age-old Front National rhetoric about ‘thugs’ running the suburbs of major cities and the failure of the French judiciary to address these concerns, whereas Macron provided clear and concrete examples of how he would increase the number of police officers on French streets.

"Le Pen’s lazy attacks on Macron’s marriage to his former schoolteacher and consistent attempts to pin the economic and social policies of Hollande’s government on the centrist candidate simply failed to have the desired effect, enabling Macron to appear more presidential. For Le Pen’s supporters, the televised debate will have little real impact since the format can be offered up as another example of the failure of the mainstream media in France to accurately portray their candidate. Yet for undecided voters and those on the extreme-left who are deciding whether to abstain, spoil their ballot or vote for Macron, the debate may provide food for thought.

"On the economy, it was Macron who appeared better-rehearsed and more precise, unsurprisingly given his career. Le Pen’s policies of protecting French jobs for French workers, which could play well with those on the left who voted for Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first-round of the election, were never articulated very well.

"Nevertheless, despite Macron’s clarity and more dignified appearance, for some voters in France the desire to reject the mainstream and the capitalist system may be too strong not to back Le Pen in Sunday’s vote. All is by no means lost for Le Pen."