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Elections in France: report examines mentions to presidential candidates in the first and second rounds

Research shows that profiles of Le Pen and Macron supporters have focused on a rejection debate on the social media, missing out discussion about public policies

2 months ago by Tatiana Terra Ruediger, Danilo Carvalho da Silva, Humberto Ferreira, Lucas Calil, Alexandre Spohr

Emmanuel Macron’s electoral results in the second round has not only made him the youngest president in France’s history, but confirmed (rather conservative) estimates of electoral polls regarding his advantage against Marine Le Pen. While French press presented a sharp debate  on the impact of absences (which were in fact high) and blank and bull votes (also high), there was a migration of voters from other candidates which was in fact more advantageous to Macron.

Under this scope of analysis, FGV/DAPP has mapped, since the beginning of the presidential campaign, the electoral debate via Twitter, in French, to identify which profiles have realigned themselves by mapping their influence poles. The study sought to verify the shift of French voters towards the two finalists in order to discover which candidates “have left” space for Macron or Le Pen to grow. The results, split into two graphs of interaction among profiles — before and after the first round –, shows a dissonant trend regarding last Sunday’s (7 May) ballot’s result in terms of the mobilization of French social media users.

Nevertheless, it has also shown that, according to what was verified in the vote, there was a strong rejection towards the adversary, in both sides of the dispute, due to the absence of adherence to the electoral programmes of Macron and Le Pen. Discussions via Twitter have presented little debate on proposals and contrasts of political orientation. The debate was rather dominated by the polarization of particular insults and criticism towards each candidate’s profile. There were more mentions to the candidates inside his/her opponent’s influence network — for both Macron and Le Pen.

In the detailed analysis of the graphs, there is a fusion of the interaction poles of the profiles of Le Pen and Les Républicains’ former candidate Fillon. These two poles are united in a single zone of interaction, in spite of Fillon’s formal support for Macron’s candidacy. On the other hand, the analysis also supports the hypothesis that Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s influence group could hardly be expected to support the centrist candidate. A large part of Mélenchon’s influence network was distanced from the remaining candidates after the first round. However, according to estimates by the Harris Institute, 53% of Mélenchon’s voters chose Macron in the second round, like 48% of Fillon’s did.

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Map of Interactions in the 1st round (Twitter – from 10 to 22 April)

Share of supporting groups

The study analysed mentions in French associated to all candidates and to the election context, gathering, in total, 4.9 million posts between 10 April and 3 May. During the first round, Macron reached the most people, concentrating 10.4% of the debate, more than twice of Le Pen’s 4.9%, for instance. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, whose campaign has been marked by extensive use of social networks and technological innovations, such as his appearance in two events simultaneously by means of a 3D hologram, appeared in second place in terms of concentration of interactions on Twitter, with 6.9%. The group here called “Profils non alignés” (Not aligned profiles) represents a heterogeneous group, that interacts about the elections but does not concentrate support for any politician.

However, once the first round was over, profiles aligned to Fillon, already close to those interacting with Le Pen, migrated to the latter in the same spectrum of debate on Twitter. This promotes an union of both groups in the visualization of virtual regions of influence: in the second Map of Interactions (page 7), the Fillon-Le Pen cluster gathers 12.1% of the interactions, with Macron still leading, with 13%. Meanwhile, Mélenchon has lost very little space, keeping 6.6% of the interactions.

Macron’s Supporting Group

Posts from the Macron cluster concentrate mainly criticism towards the two right-wing candidates, with whom he disputed voters identified with this ideology during the first round: Fillon and Le Pen. Criticism against Fillon were more frequent and took different themes into account, focusing on deplorable moments of his campaign, such as the corruption claims made against him. Regarding Le Pen, the Macron cluster criticized her participation in the European Parliament, incoherent to her strong support for France to disengage from the EU.

Most mentioned terms

Tweets complementing Macron’s candidacy to the presidency were not shared much and had mostly a comparative tone, having a negative impact on the other two candidates with potential to gather rightist votes. Criticism towards left-wing candidates — besides Mélenchon, the socialist Benoît Hamon, from current president François Hollande’s party — were softer and, especially, less frequent.

Le Pen’s Supporting Group

During the first round of the French elections, Le Pen’s supporting group discussed a lot about the Islamic issue in the country. The candidate stated that she wanted to prohibit the Union of Islamic Organisations of France and, in a popular tweet during the campaign, that she does not want that Frenchmen get used to Islamic terrorism. Besides, Marine Le Pen stated that a “massive and uncontrolled” immigration leads to chaos and violence.

Most mentioned terms

Fillon’s Supporting Group

Most of the group’s most popular tweets criticized Macron, including the most shared one. Among the critiques are his “neither rightist nor leftist” position; his economic programme; his changes of opinion; his “manipulative” discourse; and the fact that Macron flares up easily in confrontation.

Mélenchon’s Supporting Group

During the first round, Mélenchon’s cluster had most of its tweets dedicated to supporting his candidacy, with some critiques towards other candidates. In spite of not concentrating on any specific candidate, there was much criticism towards current president, François Hollande. The group shared posts mentioning diverse points of his agenda, such as the protection of the environment and animals, abortion legalization, drugs policy, the fight against tax evasion, poverty and inequality, workers’ rights, and the policy for Syria.

2nd Round

Map of Interactions in the 2nd round (Twitter – from 23 April to 3rd May)

Share of supporting groups

On the left of the graph above are located different candidates’ supporting groups during the first round. The size of the black bar next to each name represents the amount of users in the supporting group. On the right are the groups established during the second round, and the graph shows the move of users between groups from the first to the second round. We can perceive that users that supported Mélenchon in the first round stay mostly put in the group, similarly to Macron and Le Pen supporters. Nevertheless, a great share of the users that previously supported Fillon moved to Le Pen’s supporting group. Subjects discussed by Fillon’s supporters during the first round, such as fear of terrorism and aversion to Mélenchon and to the left, can be the reason for the transfer of part of the users that supported Fillon towards Le Pen in the second round. In fact, in the Twitter graph regarding the first round we can see that Fillon’s and Le Pen’s supporting groups are close, indicating that these users share similar messages.

In the following graph, we can see which themes are mostly discussed by each supporting group in the second round. We can notice that Le Pen is the candidate that mobilizes themes such as economy, terrorism, unemployment, nationalism and migration the most.

Macron’s Supporting Group

Macron’s cluster presents mostly criticism towards Le Pen regarding different elements and themes, with some important posts complementing Macron without mentioning his opponent. Recurring themes of Macron’s cluster are the need to fight Le Pen’s and her party’s project, often referring to her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen. They identify her project as a nationalist and anti-European right, besides criticizing the hate promoted by the Front National. Here, there is also a reflection on the importance of convincing those that think about not voting or about annulling their votes of helping Le Pen not to be elected. This thought is especially directed to leftist voters. These, in spite of not having a second round candidate, are still active in social networks, most involved in the #niMarineniMacron movement.

Le Pen’s Supporting Group

Marine Le Pen is the actor with the most retweets in the group and, among the most shared posts after the first round, she emphasizes Macron’s proximity to Hollande due to his involvement in the previous government. Other popular tweets mention also his proximity to current French president as a negative aspect. It is interesting to notice that, among second round’s most popular tweets, the Islamic issue does not appear as strongly as in the first round, what might indicate a strategy by the candidate to seem less extremist, trying to gather more votes beyond her regular voters.

Final Remarks

The fight between Le Pen and Macron on Twitter, far beyond representing exclusively a conflict of ideological formations in the second round of the presidential elections, was a duel of hostility towards the other. In both influence networks, there is a stronger presence of references to the adversary’s name than to the candidates’ names. This synthesizes a rejection engagement, instead of a debate over policies. This engagement was also shown in the ballots, with a high level of abstention and a great percentage of voters that, during polls, stated that could vote both for Macron and for Le Pen as a means to prevent the other from winning.

Under this prism, with a contrast of rejections, the virtual migration of Fillon’s cluster to Le Pen’s, just like the low adherence of profiles aligned to Mélenchon to Macron’s candidacy in the second round, shows the resistance of the left to engage in discussions near to the centre. In a scenario with few propositions, in which the “no” prevails over the development of a partisan agenda, even in themes dear to Le Pen, such as terrorism, neither finalist got more than 13% of the influence in the electoral debate.
Nevertheless, the cluster of not aligned profiles fell to less than 8% of the participation, against its presence of more than 20% in the first round, despite not presenting a specific orientation to a new candidate. More fragmented, these profiles represent both resistance to Macron and Le Pen and uncertainty between choosing one and not voting. In this balance, Macron distinguishes himself as a less undesirable option by most French voters.


FGV/DAPP

Director

Marco Aurelio Ruediger

Team

Alexandre Spohr

Danilo Carvalho

Humberto Ferreira

Lucas Calil

Tatiana Ruediger