French voters are looking towards a final vote next Sunday, May 7 to elect their new President. It started off as an election with 11 candidates from across the political spectrum — but four emerged as legitimate contenders. Voters narrowed their choices down to two on Sunday.
Marine Le Pen, an extreme right candidate from the National Front Party, and Emmanuel Macron, a moderate candidate from a new party called En Marche!, were voted as the two leading candidates and will move on to the final round to compete for the French Presidency in two weeks — leading to a showdown between pro-European Union candidate Macron, and anti-European Union candidate Le Pen.
Associate professor of French Sarah Glasco compared Le Pen's candidacy to a candidate that we saw in the 2016 United States presidential election — now-President Donald Trump.
"Just like Donald Trump a lot of people are saying, 'She can't win, she can't win.' And even if she wins the first round, in the second round France will rally and they won't let her win," Glasco said, similarly to what many political pundits said about Trump's campaign during the election last year.
But Glasco also pointed out a striking difference: The Trump family was a business family before the business tycoon decided to mount a bid for the Presidency of the United States, whereas the Le Pen family has been a well known political family in France for decades.
Le Pen's father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, was the leader of the National Front until his daughter succeeded him in 2011 in response to his controversial statements including denying the occurrence of the Holocaust, which is against the law in France. The political figure also made it to the second round of the French Presidential election in 2002.
According to Elon dual-enrollment program student Théo Hardy, a native of a small town outside the capital city of Paris, Le Pen and her party, National Front, or F.N., would not have had the chance of winning 30 years ago that they do now.
"She was able to shift the French opinion when my parents were my age. It was like a sin to vote F.N.," Hardy said. "Not a sin, but it wasn't well seen at all. Now people vote F.N. and they don't care."
Both Macron and Le Pen are known to be anti-establishment candidates, but what is really on the line is France's position in the European Union, a system hanging by a thread amidst a "Brexit" vote in the United Kingdom.
"That's a very real possibility," Glasco said. "France will hold referendums to leave the EU If France leaves the European Union, there's a lot of talk that the EU will collapse."
France, along with Britain and Germany, have been known to be the "glue" of the European Union since its formation.
The divisiveness caused by this election will not go unnoticed. According to Business Insider, roughly 1/3 of French voters are planning to hand in a blank protest ballot.
"You've got a lot of arguing and fighting in the French Society," Hardy said. "A lot of people will say 'I don't care, I just don't care I'm not going to vote.' A lot of people are saying that because they don't trust anyone."
But while Americans might not be voting, Glasco offers some advice to pay special attention to this election.
"For those that didn't think that Donald Trump could win, if you think that Marine Le Pen, this extreme right candidate, has no chance of winning," Glasco said. "I think that you should think again and take a note from that experience."
A debate between Macron and Le Pen is scheduled for Wednesday, May 3. Right before French voters will head to the polls to cast their ballots on Sunday, May 7.