Voting Day Survey Shines Light on 2022 French Presidential Election

Published Apr 20, 2022

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During the first round of the French Presidential Election on Sunday, April 10th, Harris Interactive and Toluna conducted a Voting Day survey that interviewed over 7,000 French citizens. Jean-Daniel Lévy, Senior Vice President of Harris Interactive France and Director of Politics and Opinion Department, shared his insights over live broadcast with media partners M6 and RTL.

Jean-Daniel, can you explain to us what the Voting Day survey is and what it does?

We launch this study on every election day in order to understand the motivations, dynamics, and major themes that drive French citizens’ votes—beyond just the result itself. The study is carried out in its entirety on the same day and includes a very large sample—an expertise of ours—so that we can collect data that portrays the actual voting behavior of French citizens as accurately as possible. This also allows us to understand the motivations of those who abstain from voting, which is becoming an increasingly important issue in French elections.

Can you walk us through the results of the first round?

The first round of the election has concluded, and the verdict confirms what we have been seeing through our voting intention surveys in partnership with France’s largest weekly economics magazine, Challenges. And for our efforts, we were named as the most accurate institute for voting intentions by Datapolitics.

Emmanuel Macron (center-right) came out on top with 27.9% of the votes, followed by Marine Le Pen (far right) with 23.2%. The second round will pit these two candidates against each other in a repeat of when they faced each other five years ago.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon (far left) finished third with a higher-than-expected 22% of votes—far ahead of Eric Zemmour (far right) with 7.1%, Valérie Pécresse (right) with 4.8%, and Yannick Jadot (ecologist) with 4.6%.

And what were the conclusions of the Voting Day survey?

Our Voting Day survey shows that, first and foremost, votes are used as votes of support; one in two voters declare that they voted for the candidate whose personality, ideas, or proposals convinced them. But there are tactical voters, as well, and they should not be neglected. These voters select a candidate so they can move on to the second round without necessarily being convinced by their candidacy.

Overall, 23% of French voters said they voted tactically, which benefitted Jean-Luc Mélenchon, in particular. This is something that we had been noticing quite a bit in voting intentions at the end of the campaign. Some voters viewed him as the most likely candidate to represent the left and prevent a second round between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. Almost a quarter of his voters (24%) decided to vote for him at the last moment—on either voting day or the week leading up to it—a figure higher than other leading candidates.

Does this mean many voters voted by default?

French citizens’ votes cannot be viewed as purely utilitarian. Rather, the results of our study show that they are motivated by a mix of agenda, ideas, and their ability to identify with the candidate.

• 56% declare that they voted so their candidate would win the election

• 54% say that the candidate’s political agenda played an important role in their vote

• 54% say their vote was influenced by their candidate’s values

This is particularly true for voters of the two challengers to Emmanuel Macron, Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon. For the outgoing President, voters were less convinced by his agenda (39%) and more convinced by his experience as President (53%) and his ability to embody France internationally (67%)—both of which gave him a distinct advantage over his challengers. In fact, his record was so influential that 47% of his voters stated they always knew they would vote for him, while only 20% made up their minds in the days leading up to the first round. He was able to count on this clear support throughout the campaign, which is something we noticed in voting intentions studies.

You mention the ability to embody France internationally. Did the war in Ukraine and its consequences—especially on purchasing power—play a role in the vote?

Purchasing power remains the theme of the campaign. Fifty-two percent of those who voted said it was a factor in their decision, far ahead of other themes such as health (32%) or pensions (31%)—both of which have been hot topics during Emmanuel Macron’s term and the campaign debates.

This is the first time that purchasing power has been such an influential factor in voting decisions, and it appears at the top of the list of concerns for each of the top three candidates’ voters: Emmanuel Macron (44%), Marine Le Pen (63%), and Jean-Luc Mélenchon (57%). As this issue transcends right and left, each candidate has rallied around the values that are typically associated with their political camp. After purchasing power, the fight against inequality is most important to voters of Jean-Luc Mélenchon (42%), whereas Emmanuel Macron’s voters were more motivated by the international situation and the war in Ukraine (38%). Voters of Valérie Pécresse and Marine Le Pen, on the other hand, share a common attachment to the theme of immigration (40% and 61%, respectively).

This theme of immigration has been an essential marker of the right and the far right; for Éric Zemmour, 82% of his voters say that immigration was a particularly important factor in their choice, whereas purchasing power was an important theme for only 39%. While he appeared to be Marine Le Pen’s biggest challenger between November 2021 and January 2022, his decline in voting intentions could be attributed to his failure to take a stance on purchasing power—a theme that proved significant during the campaign as Marine Le Pen continuously pushed proposals on the traditional themes related to security and immigration.

What lessons do you take from this first round to the second?

The results from April 10th line up with what we had been seeing for several weeks with our voting intentions studies. The war in Ukraine marked a turning point in the campaign. Valérie Pécresse’s support collapsed since February, and Anne Hidalgo’s campaign never took off.

The real surprise of this election was the fact that Jean-Luc Mélenchon was able to rally the French left around his candidacy and take advantage of a tactical vote in his favor. This is something to watch in the second round, for which nothing is really decided yet. Our surveys currently show an advantage for the outgoing President, but his major challenge will be convincing voters outside of his base. This is particularly true among Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s voters, who, at this time, are not particularly inclined to vote for Macron—and are divided between the choices of blocking the far right, rallying to Marine Le Pen, and abstention.

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