Is this a possible end to France's two-party system?
Current polls suggest both the Républicains party candidate François Fillon and Socialist Benoît Hamon only are set to win a combined 27 per cent of the popular vote – indicating a possible end to France’s two-party system.
Both campaigns have been hit by ‘self-inflicted’ injuries – Mr Fillon has been at the centre of embezzlement allegations that have seen him put under a formal judicial probe, and Mr Hamon made the mistake of pitching his campaign to the far-left rather than the mainstream socialist electorate.
Even without these issues, there is little indication that either candidate would have fared better under different circumstances.
Research shows the dramatic decline in their respective parties’ popularity has been in the making much longer than previously thought.
The rise of identity politics and a feeling among voters that both parties have failed to change France for the better is a major factor in the increasing apathy towards the candidates on offer.
Gérard Grunberg, of the Center for European Studies at Sciences Po university, told Politico the decline is expected to continue.
He said French people had seen little changes during the past three decades and had become sick of the status quo.
He also pointed out the mainstream parties had missed the real debate.
Emmanuel Macron is racing ahead in the polls
Mr Grunberg said: “On immigration, Europe, globalization, the big divide now is whether you want an open or closed country.”
Pierre Rosanvallon of the Collège de France added: “Voters have moved from a representation system to an identification system.
“In the old system, parties had identifiable social bases, and their job was to represent that base, to aggregate their interests. The political system was driven by demand.”
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While the mainstream parties’ decline is much more striking at this time, the root cause of it lies firmly in France’s political history.
In 2012, Socialist François Hollande and outgoing conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy received 56 per cent of the vote in the first round.
In 2007, Mr Sarkozy and his Socialist opponent Ségolène Royal got 57 percent, and with the 19 percent of voters opting for centrist François Bayrou, the total for mainstream traditional parties that year added up to 76 percent.
In contrast, this year has seen right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen on track to deliver her party its best presidential election performance ever, in a long line of attempts that goes back to her father Jean-Marie Le Pen’s first run in 1974.
Le Pen senior then received 0.75 percent of the vote. His best score came in 2002 with 16.86 percent.
His daughter is currently polling at around 22 per cent and for months has been one of the two favourites to reach the runoff on May 7.
The current Presidential election has seen political tradition further disrupted by upstart Emmanuel Macron, the former economy minister who has created his own political movement and is running on a liberal reform platform, as well as leftist firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon, propelled into the “gang of four” with a chance of making the second round by his strong performance in televised debates.
Contrary to what he did five years ago, Mr Mélenchon is currently campaigning without having first clinched an alliance with the communist party.
He says he wants to reach “the people” far beyond the confines of the French left.
Right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen is on track to deliver party's best ever performance
The election’s top four candidates are now so close — all above or around the 20 per cent mark — that no pundit could accurately predict the outcome of the first or even second round.
Mr Macron and Mrs Le Pen remain ahead, followed by Fillon and Mélenchon, in that order.
Of the four candidates, only Mr Fillon represents a mainstream party, with Socialist Party candidate Mr Hamon way off the pace, polling at a mere 7 or 8 percent.