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Electoral posters of French centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, Saint Jean de Luz, southwestern France, April 26, 2017 (AP photo by Bob Edme).

The Overlooked Takeaway From France’s First-Round Election Results

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

PARIS—The widespread narrative surrounding the first-round results of France’s presidential election, which sent centrist independent Emmanuel Macron and far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen into the second-round runoff, goes something like this: Macron was the candidate most capable of barring Le Pen’s route to the presidency; his victory Sunday—and, in all likelihood, in the May 7 runoff—saved France from self-destruction and the European Union from a death blow. The populist tide has been turned back in Europe, and disaster averted.

While there is nothing actually wrong in this narrative, it obscures as much as it reveals. A closer look at the outcome of Sunday’s vote shows that France is an almost evenly divided country, essentially drawn and quartered by four diametrically opposed reform agendas. The four top contenders offered voters a stark and clear choice among the familiar options for addressing France’s longstanding challenges. They were separated by 4 percentage points, essentially splitting 85 percent of the vote. So while the choice offered the chance for a clarification, the outcome muddied the waters. ...

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