PARIS (AP) — French polling agencies are projecting that centrist President Emmanuel Macron will win France’s presidential runoff Sunday, beating far-right rival Marine Le Pen in a tight race that was overshadowed by the war in Ukraine and saw a surge in French support for extremist ideas.
If the projections are borne out by official results, Macron would be the first French president in 20 years to win a second term, since Jacques Chirac in 2002. But he would face a divided nation and a battle to keep his parliamentary majority in legislative elections in June.
Five years ago, Macron won a sweeping victory to become France’s youngest president at 39. The margin is expected to be way smaller this time: Polling agencies Opinionway, Harris and Ifop projected that Macron would win between 57% and 58.5% percent of the vote, with Le Pen getting between 41.5% and 43%.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.
PARIS (AP) — From bucolic villages to humming cities, French voters on Sunday were choosing between two radically different futures for their country, with President Emmanuel Macron offering a centrist pro-European outlook if he is reelected while far-right challenger Marine Le Pen is pledging seismic changes for France and its allies if she becomes the country’s first female leader.
All this is taking place amid the fallout of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has sent prices for food, fuel and other essential goods skyrocketing in France, a European Union country that has seen heated protests in recent years over economic inequalities.
The biggest unknown was how voters who backed the 10 other presidential candidates eliminated in round one will vote this time — or even if they will vote at all. The second round is a winner-take-all presidential runoff between the two familiar rivals who also faced each other in 2017.
With just three hours before the last voting stations closed, turnout was 63% — down two points compared with the same time five years ago.
Many French voters have found the 2022 rematch less compelling than in 2017, when Macron was an unknown factor, having never previously held elected office. Leftist voters — unable to identify with either the centrist president of Le Pen’s fiercely nationalist platform — were agonizing with the choice on Sunday.
Some trooped reluctantly to polling stations solely to stop Le Pen from casting joyless votes for Macron.
“It was the least worst choice,” said Stephanie David, a transport logistics worker who backed a communist candidate in round one.
It was an impossible choice for retiree Jean-Pierre Roux. Having also voted communist in round one, he dropped an empty envelope into the ballot box on Sunday, repelled both by Le Pen’s politics and what he saw as Macron’s arrogance.
“I am not against his ideas but I cannot stand the person,” Roux said.
Seeking to become France’s first president in 20 years to win reelection, Macron, 44, went into the vote with a sizeable lead in polls but was unable to guarantee victory from a fractured, anxious and tired electorate. The war in Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic battered Macron’s first term, as did months of violent protests against his economic policies.
The upheavals created fertile ground for Le Pen, who is making her third attempt to become France’s first woman president. Campaigning hard on cost-of-living issues, she made deep inroads among blue-collar voters, in disaffected rural communities and former industrial centers.
Even if the 53-year-old Le Pen stops short of the presidential Elysee Palace, a high score Sunday would still be a victory of sorts for the far right. Macron beat Le Pen handily in 2017 — 66% to 34% — but the result is expected to be closer this time.
So close that some voters felt compelled to turn out Sunday to block her ascent.
Marian Arbre, voting in Paris, cast his ballot for Macron “to avoid a government that finds itself with fascists, racists.”
“There’s a real risk,” the 29-year-old fretted.
As the only nuclear-armed power in the European Union, the outcome in France was being watched across the 27-nation bloc, which — with Russia’s war in Ukraine — is grappling with its worst security crisis since World War II. France has played a leading role in international efforts to punish Russia with sanctions and is supplying weapons systems to Ukraine. Le Pen’s ties to Russia became an issue during the campaign, raising questions as to how she would deal with the Kremlin if elected.
Nearly 49 million voters are eligible to cast ballots. Early results are expected Sunday night.
Le Pen voted in the northern town of Henin-Beaumont, in France’s struggling former industrial heartland.
“I am serene,” she said. “I have confidence in the French.”
Macron voted in the resort town of Le Touquet on the English Channel and cast his ballot with a wink for the cameras.
Appealing to working-class voters struggling with surging prices, Le Pen has vowed that bringing down the cost of living would be her priority if elected. She argued that Macron’s presidency left the country deeply divided, pointing to the yellow vest protest movement that rocked his government before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Macron sought to appeal to voters of immigrant heritage and religious minorities, especially because of Le Pen’s proposed policies targeting Muslims and putting French citizens first in line for jobs and benefits.
Macron also touted his environmental and climate accomplishments to trawl for young voters who backed left-wing candidates in round one but were often ambivalent at best, sickened at worst, about the runoff match-up. Macron said his next prime minister would be put in charge of environmental planning as France seeks to become carbon neutral by 2050.
Le Pen, once considered a climate-change skeptic, wants to scrap subsidies for renewable energies. She has vowed to dismantle wind farms and invest in nuclear and hydro energy.