Young voters boost Le Pen’s poll chances
WITH the backing of young voters, the leader of France’s far-right National Front, Marine Le Pen may become the next president of France. As the country hurtles toward the election this spring that could alter the course of European history – the first round is on Sunday – Le Pen’s once-longshot and now undeniably viable bid to lead France rests heavily on the country’s millenials.
Populist triumphs in Britain and the US came last year despite young voters, not because of them. Millennials – generally at ease with immigration, trade and multiculturalism – lined up against both Brexit and Donald Trump. It was older voters who sought to overturn the existing order with nationalist answers to the problems of a globalised world.
But France is a land of youthful revolts, from the 18th century barricades to the fevered university campuses of May 1968. And with youth unemployment stuck at 25%, Le Pen’s reactionary call to return the country to an era of lost glory by closing borders, exiting the EU and restoring the national currency has fired the passions of young voters craving radical change.
“We’ve been told our whole lives that everything is set. Free trade. Forgetting our borders. One currency for all of Europe. Nothing can change,” said Gaëtan Dussausaye, the mild-mannered 23-yearold leader of the National Front’s youth wing. “But young people don’t like this system. This system is a failure.”
The National Front’s strength among millennials suggests the populist wave that has unsettled the West may be more durable than many may assume. Far from the last gasp of closed-society older voters who are demographically destined to be outnumbered by a rising tide of cosmopolitan youth, the populist insurgency could continue to build over years and decades if enough disenchanted young voters can be lured by the promise of something new.
And across Europe, that’s exactly what far-right movements are attempting. In Germany – a country where the two main parties are led by political veterans in their 60s – the anti-Muslim Alternative for Germany party is run by a fresh-faced 41-year-old.
Scandinavian parliaments, mean- while, are stocked with politicians in their 20s hailing from parties that just a decade ago were consigned to the extremist fringe.
The National Front was, until relatively recently, a fringe movement itself, seen by critics as a neo-fascist front filled with racists, anti-Semites and xenophobes and led by the convicted Holocaust denier Jean-Marie Le Pen.
To many older or middle-aged voters, the party’s essential DNA remains unaltered, even as it has furiously tried to refashion its image. “The National Front is trying to make us think they’ve changed,” said Marie-Thérèse Fortenbach, a 50-year-old who said her half-Congolese heritage has made her a victim of the sort of discriminatory practices the party long preached. “I don’t believe it.”
Supporters of French far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen, gather for a rally in La Trinité-Porhoët, France. Le Pen is appealing to a diverse group of demographics and polls are showing substantial enthusiasm for the candidate.