But things are far more complicated. After an endless, unpredictable presidential race, electoral fatigue appears to be setting in. And rather than reaffirming people’s faith in politics as promised—the former economic minister campaigned heavily on the theme of political “renewal,” vowing to replace the country’s established political class with young and dynamic reformers—Macron’s success seems to be sapping it.
Looming over Macron’s triumph is a record-high level of abstention, or the share of registered voters who failed to show up at the polls. At 51 percent, it is the highest-ever such rate in the history of the Fifth Republic, which began in 1958. Its closest competitor—the first round of the 2012 legislative elections—still comes in 8 percentage points behind. This is all the more noteworthy in a country accustomed to widespread electoral participation; since 1988, the participation rate in presidential races has hovered around 80 percent, dropping off to 63 percent in legislative races. This year, 4 million more people cast ballots for the National Front’s Marine Le Pen in the second round of the presidential race last month than voted for Macron’s upstart formation on June 11.
The low turnout levels disproportionately hurt populist candidates while lifting those of Macron’s party. The young and working class people who propelled Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Le Pen to strong showings in April’s presidential race largely stayed home in the legislative election’s first round. According to an Ipsos poll, 63 percent of those aged 18 to 24 didn’t vote, more than 10 percent above the overall rate. Meanwhile, a whopping 66 percent of blue-collar workers and 61 percent of service-sector workers didn’t bother showing up.
Had these groups turned out en masse, the results would likely have looked very different.
According to a June 7 BVA-Salesforce poll, support for Mélenchon’s legislative candidates peaked among those aged 18 to 24. With nearly a quarter of the vote, the party tied with En Marche as the first choice for these voters, declining in popularity among older voters. Support for the president’s party, on the other hand, peaked at about a third among those aged 65 and older and declining among younger voters. By the same token, the National Front led among working-class voters but struggled mightily in the middle-to-high-income socioeconomic category used by French pollsters.
In other words, the disconnect between France’s residents and its brand-new political super-majority is rapidly growing. The populists may have performed poorly on Sunday, but the government’s feeble base of support all but ensures their future relevance.
Macron has already declared his intention to pursue contentious reforms like revamping the country’s collective-bargaining laws in favor of employers and enshrining parts of the ongoing state of emergency into common law. Initiatives like these will likely earn overwhelming parliamentary support—all the while lacking a broad popular mandate. These and any other similar aspects of Macron’s agenda could spark disruptive protest, reinforce the widespread sense of a democratic deficit, and, naturally, drive voters to rally behind forces that better represent them—or at least claim to do so—in the next election. It might not end well.