The surprisingly strong turnout of the Front Nationale (FN), France’s right-wing conservative party, in last week’s European Parliament elections has some asking a surprising question: could Marine Le Pen be the next president of France.
While the presidential elections are far in the future—not set to occur until 2017—the parliamentary elections show that Le Pen’s party is gaining traction with the popular voter base.
The FN, previously led by Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie, has rebranded itself since the younger Le Pen’s appointment in 2011. A party once known for extreme racism and anti-Semitic sentiments, the FN has tamed its more radical notions in order to appeal to a French populace dissatisfied by the rising rate of taxes and employment under the current socialist government.
While the FN continues to ally with an anti-immigrant platform, the economic policies put forward by Le Pen’s party—including the promotion of free markets and withdrawing from the euro—have grown in popularity with various support groups, including the youth. The polling group Ipsos-Steria estimated that at least 30 percent of youth voters (under 35) supported the FN in the parliamentary vote.
In the parliamentary elections in late May, the FN received 25 percent of the nationwide vote, in contrast to the 14 percent and 20 percent won by the Parti Socialiste (PS) and the center-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP), respectively.
This is a marked demographic shift from the presidential campaign of Jean-Marie Le Pen back in 2002. After beating his PS competitor into the two-candidate run-offs, nearly 1.3 million people took the streets in protest, with liberals decisively supporting the conservative candidate Jacques Chirac in direct opposition to Le Pen’s more radical campaign.
While the parliamentary campaign is not entirely representative of the presidential turnout with only 43 percent of registered French voters turning out for the EU elections, the strong showing of the FN has sent signals to the French electorate, government, and media that they are no longer the dark horse of French politics. In the constantly shifting political field, the FN’s bid for the 2017 presidential elections is very much a reality.