On Sunday, April 10th, France will enter its first round of elections for the 2022 presidential race. Amongst the eight candidates running, current French President Emmanuel Macron of the Republican Party, Marine Le Pen of the National Rally, and Éric Zemmour of the self-founded La Reconquête (i.e. the Reconquest Party) are heading most polls and discussions.  
At the end of the 2017 presidential election, Macron and Le Pen unexpectedly faced off for the win. The Republican candidate ended up winning the presidency by a significant margin, but as the first election day of 2022 approaches, doubts have increased about Macron’s chances of being reelected.
Marine Le Pen, a right-wing extremist, has been a threat to France’s democracy since her first electoral campaign. She is a nationalist, has preached Islamophobia, and has supported anti-immigrant policies. Although she has begun to appeal to the working class by advocating for a unified France, she refers to a France unified of white Catholics who believe in the country’s traditional values.  For this reason, she resembles a skilled populist. According to Müller, a populist uses democratic methods to rise to power and then erodes those democratic practices by preying on their weaknesses. Populists also tend to divide their public and make their followers believe that as the only one who understands the needs of the people, only they can solve the nation’s problems. By giving a voice to those who feel they are not represented under an ever-evolving government, these politicians are able to attract significant numbers. 
Populist rhetoric, similar to what Marine Le Pen has been practicing, is what Donald Trump used in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. Mutz argues several reasons why he was able to gain so many supporters in such a short period of time. First, the majority of folks who voted for Trump felt they had been left behind by globalization. As white, conservative, Christian, middle class Americans, i.e. the “silent majority,” they felt both a racial status threat and a global status threat, fearing that they would become the minority in the U.S., that immigrants would take away their jobs, that their social hierarchy would collapse, and that the country would begin having to rely more and more on other countries, thus infringing on their independence. Trump was quick to feed into these fears and promised his supporters to bring back the old, great America that the Democrats in power had apparently destroyed. Hence where his “Make America Great Again” slogan came from. Therefore, rather than relying on logic, Donald Trump fueled his campaign with emotion-derived rhetoric which attracted those folks who felt the U.S.’ modernization had left them and their traditional cultural values behind. His proposed economic policies might not have been beneficial to those who voted for him, but many nonetheless supported Trump as they found that their shared traditional values, which had somewhat disappeared in the political world, were reason enough to want to elect him. 
Why do people sometimes vote against their economic self-interest? Frank argues, in his “What’s the Matter with Kansas” theory, that people tend to vote for their cultural values in lieu of their economic self-interest as an appeal to emotion can be more persuasive than an appeal to logic. This is the reason why Marine Le Pen has gained so much support during this election season. Many French citizens are attracted to her nationalist, old French values and thus follow her instead of Emmanuel Macron, who has a more modern, global political ideology. 
As the election draws near, Marine Le Pen’s tightening gap with President Macron poses a threat to France’s democracy as the pressure from right-wing extremism on the center-right might cause it to collapse. Just as Trump’s election destabilized center-right politics, a win for Le Pen could destroy Macron’s party and modern politics. Currently, the president is leading the polls with 28 percent support, but Le Pen is not far behind with 20 percent support.  What is more dangerous is that as she now nears the lead, the politician has softened some of her extremist views in order to attract more of the center-right who might be leaning toward voting for President Macron.  For example, as someone who has been historically anti-immigrant and Islamophobic, in the face of the Ukrainian crisis, Le Pen has stated that she would welcome refugees.  The presidential nominee has also switched her primary focus to consumer buying power, which gives her a significant amount of support from the working class. 
In addition, this softening of her image has caused her rival, Éric Zemmour, to appear as the more dangerous candidate in comparison. For instance, although Le Pen “vows to ban Muslims from wearing headscarves on the street, calling them an ‘Islamist uniform,’” she preaches “honor[ing] the religion of Islam,” compared to Zemmour’s claim that “France will become ‘an African nation, an Islamic nation’ in 10-20 years” and feeding on extreme racist fears to gain support.  By acting as the more centered candidate, Marine Le Pen might be able to attract voters who do not support Macron but who are wary of the extent of Zemmour’s extremist ideology. Thus, if the candidate is able to steal her extremist rival’s 10 percent support, she has a chance of winning the election, which would allow her to return to practicing policies just as extreme, if not more, than Éric Zemmour’s. 
The fate of France’s democratic stability therefore remains uncertain as the country treads on a very fine line between electing a centered politician and a demagogue very likely to further erode the country’s democratic practices. Similar to the United States’ 2020 Presidential Election, the next presidential term in France has two very different, and two very possible scenarios that might occur. Amaro, S. (2021, December 9). Meet Eric Zemmour, France’s far-right presidential contender. CNBC. Retrieved April 4, 2022, from https://www.cnbc.com/2021/12/09/meet-eric-zemmour-frances-far-right-presidential-contender.html  Paris, G. (2022, March 31). Marine Le Pen Surging at just The right time. Le Monde.fr. Retrieved April 4, 2022, from https://www.lemonde.fr/le-monde-in-english/article/2022/03/31/marine-le-pen-surging-at-just-the-right-time_6119952_5026681.html  Müller, J.-W. (2017). What is populism? University of Pennsylvania Press.  Mutz, D. C. (2018, March). Status Threat, Not Economic hardship, Explains 2016 Presidential Vote. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115(19). https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1718155115  Frank, T. (2005). What’s the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America. Holt.  Guardian News and Media. (2022, April 3). The Observer View on the French Election and Rightwing Populism | Observer Editorial. The Guardian. Retrieved April 4, 2022, from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/apr/03/observer-view-french-election-far-right-populism  Ganley, E. (2022, April 3). French far-right leader Le pen softens image for election. AP NEWS. Retrieved April 4, 2022, from https://apnews.com/article/immigration-france-europe-religion-marine-le-pen-b90845d6b36d3e5de5120f52d2890d2a