French Voters Head To The Polls

May 7, 2017
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

It's election day in France and a familiar scenario unfolded over the weekend. The campaign of centrist front-runner Emmanuel Macron says its campaign emails were hacked and released on the web. Macron faces far-right challenger Marine Le Pen. The two present starkly different visions for the future of France. And we go now to NPR's Eleanor Beardsley, who's at a polling place in Paris.

Good morning.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Eleanor, what's the mood? What are people saying about the hacking of Macron's campaign?

BEARDSLEY: Well, you know what, Lulu? They don't know about it because in France, there's a mandatory blackout period for 24 hours before the vote. But still, they're very nervous because this is a high-stakes election. The two candidates present very different visions for the future of the country. Le Pen wants to leave the EU and tighten borders to protect people from what she calls savage globalization and mass immigration. Now, Emmanuel Macron wants France to remain open to the world, and he says he wants to make the country more competitive to succeed.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So Macron appears to be leading in the polls over Le Pen. It's not close - about 20 points the last poll I saw. He's come out of nowhere. Tell us about him and a little bit about Marine Le Pen as well.

BEARDSLEY: Well, right, he says he's neither left nor right. He served briefly as President Francois Hollande's economy minister, but he stepped down to launch his own new political movement and his presidential bid. She is a fringe-party candidate, but she's managed to bring her party more mainstream and get more voters. Interestingly though, young people have actually supported her over the young, new candidate, Macron. And I talked to some young people about why.

JEAN PHILIPPE CHALOPIN: I think young people are very disappointed and angry.

BEARDSLEY: That's 20-year-old Jean Philippe Chapolin (ph). I met him coming out of a Le Pen rally near Paris. Chapolin says the generations before them had jobs and public services were good. And now everything's crumbling, and the country is in a moral crisis. He says only Marine Le Pen can fix things.

CHALOPIN: She offers hope for us. She will allow the economy to be more French-friendly, to not have all our businesses go abroad to seek lower wages and also hope - I mean, pride - not only economics or - pride in who we are as a people.

BEARDSLEY: Chapolin says young people are interested in more than the economy, and Le Pen makes them feel patriotic. A couple hours north of Paris, in a small town near the Belgian border, Guillaume Florquin says he's voting Le Pen because France can't take in more immigrants with its own economy so weak.

GUILLAUME FLORQUIN: France actually can't accept a lot of migrants because too much French people are in bad situation.

BEARDSLEY: Le Pen has attracted more young voters than Macron. But the candidate who appealed to the most was 65-year-old, far-left firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon, who was eliminated in the first round two weeks ago. Melenchon promised to end all wars and spoke to young people's social conscience. Macron and Le Pen have both been trying to attract his supporters. Many far-left voters have said they will abstain today because they can't bring themselves to choose between a far-right demagogue and a globalist banker. Back in the streets of Paris, 26-year-old engineer William Durieux says he wholeheartedly supports Macron.

WILLIAM DURIEUX: Me, I'm going vote for Macron because I want hope for France. We cannot go for the extreme. Like, I feel European, and I don't want to put borders around France saying OK, it's just us, nothing else.

BEARDSLEY: Now, Durieux told me a lot of his friends did vote for a left-wing candidate, Melenchon, in the first round. But he says they've all decided to support Macron today against Marine Le Pen.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK, so when will we know the results, Eleanor?

BEARDSLEY: The polls close at 7 and, in big cities, at 8 o'clock. And they're going to announce it on the nightly news, as tradition has it, so around 2 p.m. Eastern Time today.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Thank you so much, Eleanor.

BEARDSLEY: Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.