One thing the French do better than Americans
The French went to the polls this past weekend. According to exit polls, France's current president, Emmanuel Macron, will face the National Rally candidate, Marine Le Pen, in a run-off election on April 24.
Macron led the first round of voting Sunday with 27.6% of the vote to Le Pen's 23.0%. The far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, finished far stronger than expected with 22.2%. It was largely a redo of the vote five years ago.
By chance, I happened to be in France during the last election and was struck by how much French politics resemble those of the U.S. — and how much it does not.
Everywhere I went in Paris and in the small towns in Alsace, where I was staying, I saw giant posters of Emmanuel Macron with red lines drawn through them and the words "sauf sans Macron" — anyone but Macron.
As in America, politics in France is less about ideology than it is about class.
Macron and his allies represent the technocratic elite — Macron was an investment banker before becoming a politician — for whom the erasure of national identity, mass immigration, and "luxury beliefs" such as redefining marriage are no big deal. Macron and his rich friends make money no matter how much gasoline costs.
As in America, in France, the elitism of progressives like Macron has triggered a massive backlash and the rise of populist movements such as the "gilets jaunes" (yellow vest) demonstrations and the "extreme right," as represented by Marine Le Pen and the National Rally. This year, a candidate appeared who is even more radical than Le Pen: the Jewish journalist Éric Zemmour, whose Reconquest Party vows to deport illegal aliens by the thousands.
In 2017, Marine Le Pen was poised to overtake Macron but fumbled at the last minute. During a disastrous face-to-face televised debate, Le Pen seemed disorganized, unsure of her facts, while Macron projected a banker's command of the details.
Many ordinary French people held their noses and voted for the competent, albeit arrogant technocrat over the populist rabble-rouser.
But there is one way in which French elections differ radically from those in America: they still do things the old-fashioned way.
The French still cast their votes in person and on paper ballots, not on election machines run by a handful of private corporations.
They also must show photo identification and sign a document, next to their name, to complete the process.
What's more, the paper ballots are all counted by hand, one by one. Mail-in ballots are illegal. The French decided in 1975 that mail-in ballots are vulnerable to fraud and undermine public confidence in the legitimacy of the vote. The only exception is for people serving prison sentences.
Polls validate the tried and true methods used by the French.
According to a recent Ipsos poll conducted in January 2022, only 20% of American voters are very confident that U.S. elections are fair and honest, down from 37% a year earlier.
Among Republicans, that number is now only 13%, with the majority, 58%, saying they have little to no faith in the honesty of U.S. national elections.
Despite their claims to the contrary, many Democrats agree. In 2018, a poll found that two-thirds of Democrat voters believed that in 2016, Russia had "tampered with vote tallies in order to get Donald Trump elected President."
The widespread use of mail-in ballots, dropping requirements for ID to vote, early voting for weeks before Election Day, and other non-traditional voting practices may partially explain this lack of confidence.
In the widely contested 2020 election, 10 million more mail-in ballots were used than in all previous elections — and the 2020 election was decided by fewer than 50,000 votes in just four battleground states.
According to the U.S. Census, fully 69% of American voters in 2020 "cast their ballot nontraditionally — by mail and/or before Election Day."
This leads many Americans, particularly Republican voters, to ignore media claims and conclude that the U.S. voting system is vulnerable to interference — by foreign actors, Big Tech billionaires such as Mark Zuckerberg, or local campaign officials.
As a result, the same Ipsos poll mentioned earlier found that 58% of Americans surveyed believe that "the nation's democracy is in danger of collapse," including 62% of Republicans, 57% of independents, and even 56% of Democrats.
In contrast, the French have relatively high confidence in the accuracy and fairness of their elections.
Of course, the French face the same issues as most voters in developed democracies, such as fake news from the corporate media and manipulation by Big Tech oligarchs.
In the 2017 election, a mainstream candidate widely considered Macron's chief rival, veteran politician François Fillon, had his campaign sabotaged at the last minute when an article about his wife's cushy employment deals appeared in the satirical publication Le Canard enchaîné. After that, Macron's election was all but assured.
In the U.S., it is now known that the media's decision not to report on the corrupt business dealings in China and Ukraine of Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden, revealed in a laptop computer he left at a computer repair shop, contributed to Joe Biden's victory over Donald Trump.
So French voters face the same challenges as their American counterparts.
The big difference, however, is that once they cast their ballots, French voters are more confident that the tallies will reflect the actual results.
In the land of the free and home of the brave, that is no longer the case. Polls show that voters don't believe that their elections are fair and honest.
Robert J. Hutchinson writes about the intersection of politics and ideas. He latest book is What Really Happened: The Death of Hitler.