Cost of living and the war in Ukraine were among the most pressing issues for French voters

Several key issues have dominated the French presidential campaign this year.

The cost of living: The cost of living is among the top issues for the French electorate this year. Faced with the economic fallout from the pandemic, high energy prices and the war in Ukraine, voters are feeling the pinch, despite generous government support. Though inflation is a problem, unemployment remains historically low.

While financial pressures may be insufficient to whitewash some candidates’ extremism in voters’ minds, they may push some to look for unorthodox answers to their problems.

Macron promises to continue forging ahead with a globalized, free market-focused France. Le Pen wants to completely upend the status quo with protectionist economic policies.

Le Pen has also pushed for several measures to help people cope with rising prices, such as slashing sales taxes on fuel and removing income tax for people younger than 30. Le Pen’s camp, however, has not fully explained how they will pay for these, according to critics. Others say they may not all be constitutionally sound. 

Macron has proposed a swathe of tax cuts, including on income and real estate. But his call to increase the retirement age to 65 has been met with hostility by the French public on both the left and the right, and he appears to have softened his stance on the proposal while campaigning.

The war in Ukraine: Though the fighting is a long way from the bistros and cafes of France, the conflict is certainly on voters’ minds. Just shy of 90% of French people were worried about the war in the last week of March, according to pollster Ifop. Given Le Pen’s support for Putin before the war started, this has played in Macron’s favor so far.

Europe: Macron wants France at the head of a muscular European Union. Le Pen is a famous euroskeptic who, in the 2017 election, proposed a national referendum asking France if they wanted to leave the bloc and abandon the euro. Le Pen says she no longer wishes to exit the EU, but experts say many of her proposed policies would put France on a political collision course with Europe.

Islamic headscarves: Though Le Pen has softened her language around Islam, “eradicating Islamist ideologies” remains one of her two priorities in her campaign manifesto.

She wants to ban Muslim women from wearing headscarves in public — a member of her campaign team called the garb a totalitarian symbol akin to the swastika.

Macron, while campaigning, has highlighted the threat of Islamists and Muslim “separatists” in France, and his government has closed several mosques deemed radical by authority. However, he has no plans to ban headscarves in public.

The climate crisis: The environmental crisis did not feature as a major issue on the campaign trail. Although the importance of climate protections is gaining traction globally, it’s less of a concern in France, which sourced 75% of its electricity needs in 2020 from nuclear energy, according to the French environment ministry. Most candidates in the first round backed the kind of nuclear development Macron has already announced, so there is little divergence on this issue.

However, Macron and Le Pen have sparred over wind and solar power. Le Pen argues that the two are expensive and inefficient — she also says wind turbines have scarred the landscape of the traditional French countryside — so she wants to scrap subsidies for both. Macron wants to further invest in both technologies.

Journalist Camille Knight contributed to this post

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