“There are many lies,” said Mrs. Bernard. ‘Like she’s ‘like her father’, in quotes, but she’s the complete opposite. Her father” – Jean-Marie Le Pen, a former presidential candidate and longtime leader of the far-right Front National – “was completely racist. She is not. She wants everyone to respect our ways. When you go to Africa, you respect African law. Her dad just wanted to kick them all out.”
Such views are not uncommon, especially in small towns in France with little to no immigration. In fact, 15 years after her father’s last presidential election, Ms. Le Pen has not significantly deviated from his views on immigration, even though she has renamed the party in what was seen as an attempt to distance himself from him and broaden the base. She wants asylum seekers to be treated abroad and has said her first act as president will be to propose a referendum on immigration.
In La Roche-en-Brenil, a town of nearly 900 people, I spoke to a 34-year-old mother of five, Chloé Odermatt, who was pushing a pram with her 3-month-old baby. She said she would vote for Ms. Le Pen and was pleased that she suggested tightening controls on granting immigrants access to state services. “A lot of them are taking advantage of the system and are not integrated in France,” she told me.
This election has further blurred the traditional divide between left and right in France. Ms. Le Pen has managed to broaden her consensus by combining far-right stances on immigration with a left-wing defense of government spending and social security. Her message has resonated even with younger voters like Ms. Bernard — she has pledged to abolish income taxes on those under 30 — and her once-extreme stances seem less so now that the center-right has also adopted much of the same rhetoric, especially on national-identity issues. Help also came from Éric Zemmour, whose inflammatory statements made her appear more moderate.
All over Burgundy, Le Pen voters kept telling me they wanted Macron out because prices kept rising and salaries weren’t keeping up. In La Roche-en-Brenil, I asked a Le Pen supporter if that was all Mr Macron’s fault. “Well, it’s not mine,” said Thierry Chenier, 50. “We tried right; that didn’t work. We tried left; that didn’t work. Maybe we should try the far right, with a woman in power.”
Macron won the election in 2017 and told France it had to change, by enacting labor reforms that make it easier for companies to hire and fire people. The unemployment rate fell to its lowest point in 13 years, but at the same time Mr Macron signaled that jobs were not as secure as they once were. This heightened the fears. The Le Pen voters I spoke to said they wanted change, but most of all they seemed to want conservation — keep their lower retirement age, raise pensions, lower their cost of living. The change they want could in fact be a status quo that Mr Macron has said is no longer tenable.
And yet he has made great efforts to support the economy. During the pandemic, Macron’s government pledged to spend “whatever it takes” to support businesses. He quickly began reopening schools and helping employers keep workers on leave so they could return to work once the lockdowns were over. Still, it’s hard to win by saying, “Imagine how much worse things could have been.”