Can social data show Macron’s journey from a nobody to a very significant somebody?
First things first, can we infer the direction of the election using social media? Well, that’s a tricky one…but we can see that the word Président is far more readily associated with #EnMarche and @EmmanuelMacron than Marine Le Pen or Le Front National, and that (faire) barrage – to block – is in the top five words associated with Le Pen.
“When Marine Le Pen gets egged in Brittany, Macron receives the support of Barack Obama. #EnMarche”
Comparisons between Macron and Obama have been rife as the media has pointed out similarities in their progressive ideals and grassroots campaigns. In my view, however, a more interesting, perhaps more unsettling, comparison can be drawn between Macron and Trump.
Ignoring their political differences, both rose to power quickly and efficiently, fuelling their campaigns with emotion and by really listening to what people wanted. Political stagnation and disillusionment amongst voters has led to the perfect environment for figures like Macron and Trump to be born: both, for very different reasons and to very different people, are figures of hope for a brighter future.
At the age of 39, Macron was elected as French President – significantly fresher faced and less experienced than any of his predecessors. So much less experienced, in fact, that he wasn’t widely known by the French electorate before his presidential campaign began.
In August 2015 he announced that he no longer belonged to the Socialist Party and on 6th April 2016 founded En Marche! – Forward! or On the Move! – his liberal, centrist movement. As the trend lines below show, Macron and En Marche! literally came out of nowhere when compared to Le Pen and her National Front (French: Front national / FN) party.
These graphs also show that Macron is more widely spoken about as a candidate than Le Pen, but En Marche! as a party is mentioned less frequently than the FN. Could this perhaps be to do with our obsession with individuals rather than parties? Take Theresa May for example, her campaign centred on positioning herself as a ‘strong and stable’ leader – referencing the Conservative party (which is associated with negative sentiment) as little as possible. Or, does it stem from our love of supporting a dark horse? Or, is it because Macron cleverly positioned (dare I say, marketed) himself as a true ambassador of the ideals that he promoted?
I would argue that the latter is the most pertinent explanation. Again, Macron’s personality and behaviour has shades of Trump: he doesn’t just say different things but he does things differently. Both figures have presented themselves as offering a fresh alternative to a tired political class that people don’t identify with.
For example, En Marche! carried out a nationwide campaign, knocking on 25,000 doors and interviewing people about what they want from their government. Two simple questions were asked: What works in France? And what doesn’t work?
From his party’s name ‘The Republic On the Move!” (and its enthusiastic exclamation mark that seems to out of place in mainstream politics) to his recent troll-like tweet, Macron is showing that he is dynamic, inclusive and pragmatic.
This visualisation shows that the FN is barely linked to France at all.
In fact, Le Pen and her party are much more semantically associated with the Russian Mafia than the country they want to serve:
“We are faced with an attack led by #Russia for the benefit of the #FN, not only against @EmmanuelMacron but against #France.”
I would argue that the French voted for Macron (at least in part) because they associate him with France and French values. For all the chatter – some of it factual, some of it sensational – in the press about the rise of a dangerous and irreparable Nationalism, the recent victory in France has shown us that there is still hope: hope that nations can strive to protect their unique culture and values, while still looking outwards, not inwards…still moving forwards, not backwards.