Emmanuel Macron is an ex-investment banker and alumnus of some of France’s most elite schools. Though he previously served as economy minister, Macron was a political novice before becoming president. The 2022 presidential vote is only the second political election he has ever stood in.
But he is no longer an upstart and must run on a mixed record.
His ambitious plan to bolster the European Union’s autonomy and geopolitical heft won him respect abroad and at home, even though his attempts to win over Donald Trump or to prevent the AUKUS submarine deal.
Though ultimately unsuccessful, he was one of Europe’s most active leaders in pursuing diplomatic efforts to avert war in Ukraine, speaking directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Macron’s domestic policies are more divisive and less popular. His handling of the yellow vest movement, one of France’s most prolonged protests in decades, was widely panned, and his record on the Covid-19 pandemic is inconclusive.
Macron’s signature policy during the crisis — requiring people to show proof of vaccination to go about their lives as normal — helped increase vaccination rates but fired up a vocal minority against his presidency.
Marine Le Pen is the most recognizable figure of the French far right. She is the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, who founded the National Front, the predecessor to Le Pen’s current political party, National Rally.
The younger Le Pen has attempted to rebrand the party, as it has long been viewed as racist and anti-Semitic.
In 2017, Marine Le Pen campaigned as France’s answer to Trump: A right-leaning firebrand who vowed to protect France’s forgotten working class from immigrants, globalization and technology that was rendering their jobs obsolete.
Since then, she has abandoned some of her most controversial policy proposals, like leaving the European Union.
But by and large, her economic nationalist stance, views on immigration, skepticism of Europe and position on Islam in France — she wants to make it illegal for women to wear headscarves in public — have not changed. “Stopping uncontrolled immigration” and “eradicating Islamist ideologies” are her manifesto’s two priorities.
Le Pen has, however, attempted to soften her tone, especially around Islam and the EU in the wake of Brexit. Instead, she has campaigned hard on pocketbook issues, promising measures that she claims will put 150 euros to 200 euros ($162 to $216) in the coffers of each household, including a pledge to remove sales tax from 100 household goods.
The strategy appears to have worked.
Le Pen’s performance in the first round of the 2022 presidential election was her best result in the three times she has run.