French Election: Macron Leads Le Pen in Early Vote Count

Credit …Andrea Mantovani for The New York Times

VERSAILLES, France – The French, it is said, vote with their hearts in the first round and with their heads in the second.

But voters in diverse cities near Paris appeared to use both when casting their ballots on Sunday, further evidence that France’s two-round voting system encourages unusually strategic thinking.

Twelve candidates were on the ballot. But with polls showing that the second round will most likely be a rematch between President Emmanuel Macron and the far-right leader, Marine Le Pen, voters were already thinking of the showdown set for April 24.

In Versailles, a center of the conservative Roman Catholic vote, the center-right candidate, Valiere Picresse, was the local favorite. But she was in the single digits in most polls.

After voting at City Hall, a couple who gave only their first names – Karl, 50, and Sophie, 51 – said they had voted for Éric Zemmourthe far-right TV pundit who ran an anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim campaign.

“I’m in favor of selective immigration, instead of the current situation where we have immigrants who are seeking to take advantage of the French system,” said Karl, who works in real estate. He added that he had voted for Mr. Macron in 2017, but that he had been disappointed by the president’s policies toward immigration and his failure to overhaul the pension system.

This time, he and Sophie, a legal consultant, said they would support Ms. Le Pen in the runoff because they believed that she had gained credibility.

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For Grégoire Pique, 30, an engineer concerned about the environment, his choice had been Yannick Jadot, the Green candidate. But with Mr. Jadot languishing in the polls, Mr. Pique endorsed the longtime leftist leader, Jean-Luc Mélenchonranked third in most polls.

In the second round, Mr. Pique said, he planned to reluctantly vote for Mr. Macron to block Ms. Le Pen.

“I don’t like this principle,” he said, “but I’ll do it.”

About 10 miles from Versailles, in Trappes, a working-class city with a large Muslim population, similar calculations were taking place.

Credit …Andrea Mantovani for The New York Times

Georget Savonni, 64, a retired transportation worker, said he voted with his heart for Ms. Picresse, even though he knew that she had little chance of making it into the second round. Two Sundays from now, he said, he planned to vote reluctantly for Mr. Macron, also to stop Ms. Le Pen.

“I agree with most of Macron’s economic programs, and I feel he handled the pandemic very well,” Mr. Savonni said. “But I feel he doesn’t respect people and that he’s arrogant.”

Bilel Ayed, 22, a university student, wanted to support a minor left-leaning candidate, but endorsed Mr. Mélenchon, the leading candidate on the left. In the second round, he said, even though he believed that Ms. Le Pen, as president, would be far more terrible for France than Mr. Macron, he was unable to forgive the president for what he said was a crackdown on personal freedoms, like the violent suppression of the anti-government Yellow Vest movement.

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“I’m not voting in the second round,” he said. “I’m staying home.”

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