“The extremist danger today is even greater than it was a few months ago, a few years ago,” he told the crowd.
“Don’t believe the commentators or the opinion polls who say it’s impossible, unthinkable, who say ‘the election is already won and it’ll all be fine’. Look at us, look at you, five years ago. People said it was impossible. Look at Brexit and so many elections where the result seemed improbable but did actually happen.”
Mathieu Gallard, research director at pollster Ipsos, said the latest data showed France was deeply fragmented with five-left wing candidates on more than 10 per cent of the votes each in the first round. The far right also enters a campaign divided, with media personality turned politician Eric Zemmour – who has been dubbed “the French Trump” -competing with Le Pen, he said.
But only 67 per cent of French people say they will definitely vote, in what would be a historically low participation rate that goes against the increased participation rate of the United States, Germany and Japan.
“And this trend is undoubtedly rooted in the increasing individualisation of electoral behaviour, but also in citizens’ dissatisfaction with the major traditional parties,” Gallard says.
With a strong lead in the polls deep into February, Macron has hardly campaigned in the past month after assuming the role of Europe’s most senior leader in dealing with the Ukraine war. He has faced criticism for being the only candidate absent from a prime-time television debate on the public broadcaster France 2 on Tuesday night. He cited diary engagements.
It has allowed Le Pen, who has attempted to soften her xenophobic image, to build her base by visiting small towns and villages in regional France, campaigning on living costs – including skyrocketing energy prices – with promises to restore French sovereignty. Despite the war on their doorstep and its impact on the rest of Europe, six out of 10 voters surveyed in the Harris Interactive poll said cost of living was the most important for them at the election.
The 53-year-old, whose father Jean-Marie founded the National Front party and was himself a former presidential candidate, has also been forced to play down her long-standing support for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Without naming Le Pen on a visit to Brittany on Tuesday, Macron criticised “other candidates” for their “indulgence regarding Vladimir Putin” and their “financing with Russia”.
He was referring to Le Pen’s reception by the Russian leader in Moscow in 2017 and the fact that her party continues to reimburse a AU$18 million loan to a Russian creditor.
Reports have also emerged that in 2017, while campaigning for the last presidential election, Le Pen met with Putin at the Kremlin and repeated her support for Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, and her opposition to the sanctions imposed by the EU.
Macron – who has had several high-profile public spats with foreign leaders, including Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and British PM Boris Johnson in the past year, has staked his re-election on his economic record, including a jobless rate decreased during his term to its lowest level in a generation. He also wants to progressively raise the retirement age from 62 to 65 and boost the minimum monthly pension.
Far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, 70, is in third place in published polling at around 16 per cent, with the remaining nine candidates – including extreme-right challenger Zemmour and centre-right Valerie Pecresse – polling at 10 per cent or less.
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