The French Election: What We Know


■ Voters chose from 11 candidates, with the four leading ones so close in the polls just before the election that it had been too risky to predict the outcome.

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Voters at a polling station in Paris on Sunday during the first round of the French presidential elections.

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Jerome Delay/Associated Press

■ The two top vote-getters will go to a runoff election, which will be held on May 7.

■ Some see parallels to Britain’s departure from the European Union, known as “Brexit,” and Donald J. Trump’s rise in the United States.

Here’s what we know:

These were the candidates

Of 11 candidates in the race, four were leading in the polls.

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The far-right candidate Marine Le Pen at a polling station in Hénin-Beaumont, in northern France, on Sunday.

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Olivier Hoslet/European Pressphoto Agency

Marine Le Pen, 48, the leader of the far-right National Front, was a slight front-runner or tied for first place for much of the campaign after years of trying to distance her party from a history of anti-Semitism. She had been losing ground as the campaign wound down, but the terror attack on Thursday night in Paris may now give her a final fillip of support. She has been stridently against Muslim immigration, linking it to security issues.

Emmanuel Macron, 39, a former banker and independent centrist, was virtually neck and neck with Ms. Le Pen. Socially liberal but in favor of more control in the marketplace, he wants to loosen labor rules and make France more business-friendly, but he says he would preserve the social safety net. While he could draw votes from across the political spectrum, he is also regarded warily by both left and right: on the left for his free-market ideas and support for the European Union; and on the right for his embrace of immigration and overall social outreach to all groups.

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The French conservative candidate François Fillon after casting his ballot in Paris.

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Jerome Delay/Associated Press

The mainstream right candidate, François Fillon, 63, has been battling corruption and nepotism charges but is still in the thick of the race. Part of his economic recipe is to cut the size of government drastically, shedding 500,000 jobs over five years. He has been tough on Muslim immigration and domestic security and was gaining in the final days. Conservative voters, who may still not want to vote for the far-right Ms. Le Pen, could be inclined to overlook the scandals that have swirled around Mr. Fillon’s campaign and cast their ballots for him.

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The far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon casting his ballot in Paris.

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Christophe Petit Tesson/European Pressphoto Agency

Lastly, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, 65, their far-left rival, has ascended by parlaying his web savvy and charisma into a viral campaign to appeal to young voters with the use of speeches via holograms touting a “take from the rich and give to the poor” program. He’s skeptical of the European Union. He’s used YouTube talks and a video game, and he has been called the Bernie Sanders of French politics and appeals to voters who want to preserve worker protections and a strong social safety net.

The issues

How to overcome France’s long economic malaise has been at the center of much of the campaign.

The impact of globalization is a stark dividing line. The far left and the far right have forcefully argued to blunt its effects, including by potentially withdrawing from the euro and the European Union.

The mainstream candidates are more business-friendly and want to lighten the hand of the state on business and make it easier to hire and fire workers.

Domestic security, terrorism and Muslim immigration were omnipresent background issues that were suddenly thrust to the fore in the final days with the killing of a police officer in central in Paris on Thursday. The attack may now work in favor of law-and-order candidates like Ms. Le Pen and Mr. Fillon.

The turnout

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As of 5 p.m., turnout was 69.42 percent — ever so slightly lower than at that time in the 2012 election, which was considered a high-turnout contest.

Another indicator of overall French disillusionment will be the number of protest votes cast. France has a tradition of voters’ putting a blank piece of paper in the ballot box to register their discontent with the options.

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A passerby looking at candidates’ posters near a Paris polling station on Sunday.

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Emilio Morenatti/Associated Press

Cities that indicate the direction of the vote

While no one city is a perfect mirror, how the vote goes for Mr. Fillon, in Versailles, a heavily Roman Catholic suburb of Paris that often votes mainstream right, could indicate his strength nationwide.

The Catholic vote is an important one in France, but voters are uncertain about Mr. Fillon because he has been shadowed by a nepotism scandal that led to charges of embezzlement.

The area around the city of Hénin-Beaumont, now a stronghold for Ms. Le Pen, used to lean heavily left. The strength of Mr. Mélenchon in northeastern France, where he battled Ms. Le Pen to represent the area in the legislative elections in 2012, could indicate his strength this year. In 2012, they both lost and did not make it to the runoff.

The city of Nice could be an indicator of Ms. Le Pen’s strength. The city, which has had a mainstream right mayor for many years, suffered a terrorist attack last summer that killed more than 80 people.

France’s overseas territories

Usually of little significance in national votes, this year, assuming the election is close, the “Outre mer” could make a difference.

They include French Polynesia; French Guiana on the northern coast of South America; Mayotte island, off the coast of Mozambique; the Caribbean islands Guadalupe, Martinique and St. Bartholomew; the Indian Ocean island Réunion; and the islands St. Pierre and Miquelon, off the coast of northeast Canada.

Collectively, they have an estimated 7 percent of the electorate.

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