David Fuller's view -
French women are starting to picture their next president as a divorced mother of three.
The anti-euro, anti-immigrant candidate Marine Le Pen has been playing up her gender as she seeks to convert a likely first-round victory into an overall majority in the run-off on May 7 -- and it’s paying off. The 48-year-old National Front leader has already rallied some 2 million additional female voters to her cause since her last run for president in 2012 and she’s betting more will follow.
“Women are the key,” said Nonna Mayer, a researcher at the Sciences Po institute in Paris who has studied the National Front for 25 years. “These women often abstain and now they are backing Le Pen to protect their jobs and their security.”
While women make up just over half of the electorate in France they are far less likely to turn out than men, offering a well of untapped support for the candidate who manages to tune into their concerns. Le Pen’s pitch weaves together concerns about immigration, security, and the economic decline of many white French communities into a potent populist brew that borrows freely from U.S. President Donald Trump, blaming “the elite” for the problems of ordinary voters.
In 2012 Le Pen lagged behind with female voters, winning 17 percent compared with 20 percent of men’s ballots. Now she’s closed that gender gap, attracting 26 percent of voters of both sexes, according of pollster Ifop. That makes her the favored candidate among women for the first round.
“What she is proposing is really different, just like Trump offered something really new,” said Cindy Blain, a 27-year-old pharmacist in the rural north east of France. “Maybe if we see Trump succeed, then voters will give her a chance.”
The prospect of a populist president committed to taking France out of the single currency pushed the spread between French 10-year bonds and similar-maturity German bunds to its widest in more than four years on Wednesday. The risk premium dropped 3 basis points to 76 basis points at 5:24 p.m. Paris time after earlier reaching 84 basis points.
Asked if she was concerned about the risks involved in Le Pen’s plan to leave the euro, Blain brushed the question off with a flick of her hand, as if swatting away a fly.
Le Pen’s bid for women’s votes is clear: on Feb. 4 she began distributing 4 million copies of a glossy, magazine-style brochure that set out her plan to “defend French women” as the country’s first female president. The pamphlet was interspersed with pictures of her navigating “the world of men” as a sister, mother, lawyer, sailor and political leader and included a promise to be a shield against Islamic fundamentalists who, she said, want to stop women “wearing a skirt, going to work or to the bistro.”
“This is not a feminist vote,” Mayer said.
Le Pen sent another signal to the voters Tuesday on a visit to Beirut, when she refused to wear a head scarf to meet with a senior Muslim official, who insisted she don one. With neither side backing down, she left without seeing him.
This is a fascinating situation, partly because Le Pen is the candidate for a protest vote, not least because she is the only anti-EU candidate at a time when it is less popular than ever in France, and also because she is a single woman via divorce and the mother of three children. If Le Pen can attract the woman’s vote (and why not?) the second May election may be a lot closer than pundits currently think. Presumably all the other candidates who are pro-EU will do everything they can, by hook or by crook, to stop her. That may backfire.
(See also: Markets Are Right to Take a Le Pen Presidency Seriously, also from Bloomberg, plus Tuesday’s lead article)
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