PARIS (Reuters) -Some members of French President Emmanuel Macron’s camp are concerned that his re-election campaign is failing to engage voters, with little new to enthuse them as the war in Ukraine overshadows domestic policy.
With less than three weeks to go before the first round of voting, Macron has a comfortable lead in opinion polls. But with pollsters warning that abstentions could reach a record level, he needs to get supporters fired up enough to make the effort to go out and vote for him.
“There is no magic in this campaign. Nobody’s excited, not the French, not political journalists, not even us in the campaign,” one source in the Macron camp said. “The war in Ukraine has shut everything down.”
Macron’s diplomatic activism over Ukraine gave him an initial poll boost, but some campaign insiders now worry that his efforts are distracting from the fight at home.
“Next week is an important week,” the same source said. “We need to show we’re campaigning on the ground.”
The president has kept campaign events to a minimum, relying mostly on social media posts, including a few Instagram shots of him looking tired and unshaven in between diplomatic calls at his desk. Other contenders have been left to debate between themselves on TV shows that fail to attract many viewers.
A campaign rally in the French Riviera city of Nice with current and former ministers but no Macron – he sent a three-minute pre-recorded message – failed to fill the venue, French media said.
After releasing his manifesto last week, Macron gave two interviews, including one on French radio during which a caller told him to spend less time on Ukraine and focus more on the needs of his country.
But on Thursday, Macron flew to Brussels for two days of NATO, G7 and European summits. [nL5N2VR6O1
“We’re a bit bored, to be honest,” said another source close to Macron who stayed in Paris. “We need to hear the message of those who want the president to be more present at home.”
NO NEW WORLD
The centre-left faction within Macron’s party is also worried that the only measures voters will remember from his manifesto are tough and unpopular, like pushing back the retirement age to 65 and compulsory community work for welfare recipients.
“Not something that captures your imagination,” a lawmaker quipped, lamenting the “optimism” of Macron’s 2017 campaign, which promised a “new world” breaking with the politics of past decades. “We need to be careful about abstention,” he said.
After reaching a record 31.5% in the rolling Ifop poll on March 9, as the Ukraine crisis unfolded, the proportion of people saying they intend to vote for Macron has slid to 28.5%.
“That’s the cost of clarity. He tells it like it is, he’s not a panderer,” another Macron lawmaker said.
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who has focused on domestic issues such as the cost of living and inflation, has meanwhile climbed in the polls from 16% immediately after the start of the war to 20% now.
Officially, Macron’s camp dismisses any problem with the campaign. Supporters point to the fact he is still running way ahead of Le Pen and attracted a record audience for his most recent interview, and put the blame on other candidates for the lack of voter interest in the presidential election.
“In this decisive moment, I’d rather see the president at work to protect the French and strengthen Europe than on stage for a rally,” Pieyre-Alexandre Anglade, a spokesman for Macron’s party in parliament, told Reuters.
(Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Leigh Thomas and Catherine Evans)