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  • Finlay McPherson

The March of En Marche!: An Election-Winning Blueprint

In 2017 political newcomer Emmanuel Macron ascended the French presidency as the leader of En Marche!, a political movement as inexperienced as him - and one that mirrored his success, winning swathes of seats in the National Assembly and becoming part of a coalition government. In reaching the Èlysèe Palace, Macron and his party were able to see off challenges from established rivals and defeat the controversial National Front leader, Marine Le Pen. For a complete newcomer to win in France, a nation famed for its hardened political establishments, was virtually unheard of, and a win for a newcomer in a new party in both legislative and presidential elections was seen as completely impossible. Macron and En Marche! did both. Here’s how.

En Marche!’s approach to election campaigning was founded on a uniquely 21st-century idea. It would connect political newcomers to a wider party network through apps and websites, training its activists and campaigners on how best to appeal to their local communities whilst simultaneously breaking down the view of French politics as a profession dominated by insiders. Its first grand political movement was dubbed by party higher-ups as ‘The Grande Marche’, and saw a huge number of campaigners knock on doors to gauge the feelings of their neighbours and community members towards politics and politicians. Their answers were then fed into an app that was then being reviewed by En Marche! analysts. 

This exercise had the obvious benefit of gaining an insight into the feelings of the French people towards their representatives: 25,000 people participated and confirmed the feelings of Macron and his team. They viewed politicians as out of touch, but it also had a secondary impact that was perhaps far more valuable. It made activists feel wanted and valued. The move from Macron to give activists so much responsibility, in such an important task for the fledgling party, was a savvy one. It bucked the trend of party members and activists being ignored or undervalued by their parties, as was the case with traditional French parties. Instead of making them feel as though they were simply one cog in a machine, En Marche!’s involvement made their campaigners feel as if they were directly contributing to the party’s success - and they would be right.

This sense of responsibility was spurred on by the decision to make much of the campaigning decentralised. All it took was the click of a few buttons and you would then be responsible for your local En Marche! association, completely free to choose which campaign slogans or merchandise you would push. If a local En Marche! representative felt that one of Macron’s slogans did not fit with their local community, or that it simply didn’t work, they would be free to discard it in favour of one that did. This was the whole ethos behind the decision to delegate so much of the campaigning to the local representatives: they would know what worked for their area the best and what resonated within their community. These local representatives would be able to spread the Macron message in a way that was far more effective than any broad national campaign could ever hope for. Macron and En Marche! had managed to utilise a digital network and a localised representative system into a powerful election machine.

To some, it may be seen as ridiculous, or even arrogant, that a newcomer would launch a new party and involve completely new political volunteers (around seventy-percent of En Marche! activists were newcomers) but this was part of why Macron and his party were so enticing to voters. French politics had existed under a cloud of stagnation and broken promises since the election of Chiraq in 1995, with the roots of the problem going back decades before that. In breaking away from the traditional political party structure, Macron was able to present himself and his party as real agents of change, unbeholden to the political gatekeepers of the past.

France needed a breath of fresh air, and En Marche! were there to provide it. Their candidates reflected a changing France; a France that rejected the old political class and embraced the audacity of hope. It was precisely because a member of the French National Assembly, Bruno Studer, was a thirty-nine-year-old teacher with no political background, campaigning in his hometown on a bike stuffed with leaflets, that he was elected. It was precisely because he was a newcomer to elected politics that had galvanised the people into believing that there was a better future for France that Emmanuel Macron was elected, too.


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