Emmanuel Macron’s failure to win a legislative majority this week is the most serious defeat he has ever faced. The French president promised to end the political stalemates of the past and lead his nation through ambitious economic and political reforms. But he didn’t deliver on this legislative agenda in his first term, hoping instead to achieve it in his second. He will now have to turn to non-parliamentary means to achieve the aims of French liberals.

Most media chatter around the French legislative elections focuses on two phenomena: the historic performance of a new left-progressive alliance, the New Ecologic and Social People’s Union, and the unprecedented gains by the right-wing Rassemblement National (RN). But we shouldn’t exaggerate their significance.

The left’s success was the result of unifying divergent parties, not expanding its electorate or effecting a new political realignment. In 2017, the various left-wing parties, then campaigning against each other, garnered 25.5 percent of the vote. In 2022, these parties, now campaigning together, received 26.1 percent. The addition of a mere 150,000 ballots doesn’t suggest a rapidly expanding political movement.

By contrast, the RN, which captured 89 seats, continues to grow. The party gained over a million votes, expanding its share of the electorate to 18.7 percent, up from 13.2 percent in 2017. Nevertheless, the divisions endemic to the French right make it unclear how this bloc will act politically. Since Marine Le Pen has redefined the RN as a vehicle for economic populism, party deputies will find common ground with the hard left to resist fiscal reforms. This may upset many of the RN’s supporters. If the RN continues to soften its positions on French nationality and immigration, it will face mutinies. Éric Zemmour’s success in attracting high-profile defections from the ranks of the RN, most visibly in the case of Marine Le Pen’s niece, Marion Maréchal, shows that the RN is shakier than its latest performance suggests.

Get the best of Compact right in your inbox.

Sign up for our free newsletter today.

Great! Check your inbox and click the link.
Sorry, something went wrong. Please try again.