French Presidential Elections in China 2022: Which candidates are the most discussed on Chinese social media?

Unlike for the 2017 election, where the suspense was almost total until the second round of the French Presidential Election, this time, things are looking very different. At the time, candidates Marine Le Pen 勒庞 and François Fillon 菲永 were the most searched names on Chinese social media up until the very first day of voting.

Today, just a few weeks away from the first round of this election being held on the 10th of April, trends indicate a way clearer picture. Even though the tense situation in Eastern Europe is drawing most of the attention away from events like this, our analysis shows that the current president Emmanuel Macron 马克龙 is dominating the conversation on the Chinese Internet.

Here is a breakdown of what we are seeing in China.

Observation of social media trends covering the French presidential elections in China 2022

In 2017, medias outlets in China were concerned about the “uncertainty” of outcomes during the second round of the elections. In the event of Le Pen winning, China was afraid this would bring unnecessary troubles to France-China relations.

When we look at data from Chinese main internet platforms in 2022, the picture is radically different, with one candidate way more discussed than the others.

On Baidu (百度)

French presidential elections in China 2022: Macron vs Le Pen on Baidu index
Baidu Index evolution graph for Macron (in blue) and Le Pen (in green) between January 1st and March 13th 2022.

This Baidu Index (百度指数, an index that reflects the total number of searches on China’s leading search engine Baidu based on keywords) evolution graph shows the evolution of the search volume concerning the French presidential elections 2022 candidates between the January 1st, and March 13th.

According to this Baidu Index analysis, Emmanuel Macron is completely dominating the conversation on the Chinese web. Le Pen is barely existing, far behind, while the other candidates in the top 5 don’t appear in Baidu Index, due to low volumes of searches about them.

It is interesting to compare with the search behavior on Baidu during the last election in 2017. As we can see below, more candidates were searched online in China during that time. Le Pen and Fillon were the most discussed in 2017. We can understand that the tense situation in Ukraine and the global pandemic are gathering most of the attention of the online world these days, and Chinese netizens attention is elsewhere.

Baidu Index evolution graph for Le Pen, Fillon, and Macron in early 2017

Search behavior on Baidu for Macron and Le Pen (between February, 28st, and March, 13th 2022)

Concerning the search behavior (相关词分析 function on Baidu Index showing the words related to a specific searched keyword, with the keywords strongly related appearing in the middle in the first circle), a lot of Chinese netizens seem to be interested in the life of French President’s wife: Brigitte Macron, and his actions regarding the conflict in Ukraine.

On Le Pen side, words such as “Gaullism” and “Far-right” are the most searched, related to the candidate’s political views and recent comments about the founder of modern France’s political system: Charles De Gaulle.

Main associated keywords for Emmanuel Macron
Main associated keywords for Emmanuel Macron (in the first circle, strongly related, and second circle, related): “Brigitte Macron”, “French Presidential Term”, and “French President”.
Main associated keywords for Marine Le Pen
Main associated keywords for Marine Le Pen (in the first circle, strongly related, and second circle, related): “Far Right”, “Gaullism” and “French Election”.

The reason why the analysis only concerns Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, but not the others in the top 5, is because the other candidates are not indexed on Baidu due to a volume of search being too low.

On Weibo (微博)

French presidential elections in China 2022

Here is, in short, what is most talked about each top 5 candidates on the social network Weibo:

Emmanuel Macron:

The discussion regarding French President Emmanuel Macron mainly revolves around his actions during the 2022 Ukraine-Russia conflict. Chinese commentators online are parted on whether Macron is doing a good job of gaining independence from the USA or sticking to their plans too much. The conflict and the pandemic are covering most of the debates online and little is said about Macron actual results and the evolution of France-China relations during his presidency

Marine Le Pen:

The best placed candidate to join Macron during the second round of this election is already known from the Chinese public. Back in 2017 she made waves regarding her plans for a “Frexit” and a tougher approach toward immigration policies. This time, more netizens seem to show appreciation for her willingness to withdraw France from NATO and step back from the US influence.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon:

Now more well-known than in 2017, Mélenchon has made waves with his recent comments about Taiwan in an interview on Jean-Jacques Bourdain’s radio show, and then again within the French Assembly, reiterating that France has nothing to do with the Taiwan Strait affairs.

Eric Zemmour:

Officially crowned as “The French Trump” of this presidential election, Zemmour still remains relatively unknown in China. Most comments about him are about his nationalistic program, which finds a surprising support from some of the online commenters.

Valérie Pecresse:

Very little talked about on Weibo, Pecresse still stands out thanks to her multiple visits to China in 2018, her “pro-business” ideals toward the country, and her support for Huawei’s 5G deployment in Europe.

French Presidential Elections in China 2022: the Chinese favorites

Emmanuel Macron 马克龙
“小马哥”

Emmanuel Macron: French elections 2022
Picture credit: la voix du Nord.

Pro-China?

Emmanuel Macron has promised during his first year as President to visit China “at least once a year” to maintain strong diplomatic ties between the two countries. But the pandemic has put an end to this project.

This comment on Baidu知道 says: “China and France have […] an important influence on shaping the international order based on multilateralism in the 21st century.” According to Zhao Huipu, professor at the Diplomatic Academy

France-China relations suffered to some extent during his mandate, between the new Taiwan representative office opened in France and the hostile attitude of the European Union toward Chinese investments part of the “Belt & Road Initiative” and the freeze of the negotiations around the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment.

This comment explains: « Currently, Taiwan has an embassy-level representative office in Paris under the name of its representative office in Taipei, France »

Nonetheless, France has an ancient relation with China, and should maintain dialogue and respect according to the research center IRIS.

What about the Chinese opinion?

Chinese netizens seem to be criticizing his “pro-West” stances, with a good example below:

Macron keeps bowing to the U.S

This comment on Zhihu says: “Macron keeps bowing to the U.S. Whereas many French people believe that France should maintain the dignity of a great power and should not follow the U.S. all the time.

His recent photos posted online depicting him managing the Ukrainian crisis in his office wearing a sweatshirt has sparked some interesting comments from netizens. Some commented this “staged representation” being “too much”.

Macron managing Ukraine crisis like Zelensky

This post says: “Today the Elysee Palace published this group of Macron’s photos, quickly made fun out of by the netizens. Everyone is saying: there is no escape, 小马哥 is cosplaying Zelensky! […] The world is a stage.

While other commenters on Weibo are criticizing him for his support to capitalism and favoring richer citizens in France.

Macron like macarons

This meme says: “Macaron: mostly air, no nutritional value, changes with people’s taste, preferred by the rich; Macron: Same, but he is the president of France.

Finally, his use of the western version of the Chinese social network “TikTok” is also discussed online. A person commented: “TikTok has become a new battleground in the French election, and Macron is fighting to be the first online star on it

Marine le Pen 玛丽娜·勒庞
“Another De Gaulle” – 又一戴高乐

Le Pen running for French general elections 2022
Picture credit: Le Monde

Pro-China?

There are little comments recently on social media regarding Marine Le Pen’s attitude toward China. But her willingness to withdraw from NATO, stopping sanctions toward Russia, be an independent player on the world stage and drift away from international free markets are much commented on Weibo.

This netizen says: “Referring to the sanctions against the Russian Federation, Le Pen stressed that she “opposes these sanctions, the first victims of which will be the French

What about the Chinese opinion?

On Chinese social media, nationalist ideas often seem to outnumber the rest, and the general feeling toward candidate Marine Le Pen is following the same as of 2017 election, meaning: most are hoping she will win.

French presidential elections 2022 in China: Chinese netizens love Le Pen

This commenter says: “Another De Gaulle? Female presidential candidate says no to the U.S.: If elected, France will withdraw from NATO […] and will not be involved in many disputes or conflicts.

French dream big according to Chinese netizen

This comment says: “The French have always had a dream of being a great power. If it withdraws from NATO and cooperates with the EU as a framework, it is the only permanent member of the United Nations in the alliance.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon 让-吕克·梅朗雄
“The French Left-Wing Leader” – 法国左翼领导人

Melenchon running for french presidential elections 2022
Picture credit: Paris Normandie.

Pro-China?

It is well commented on Chinese social media that Jean-Luc Mélenchon thinks China is an important player on the world’s stage and should be regarded as such, he acknowledges the size and economic importance of the country.

What about the Chinese Opinion?

Mélenchon is known for his comments on the Taiwan situation, and Chinese netizens are following his statements closely regarding the importance of the situation.

said that Taiwan is a province of China and that there is only one China in the world

This post on Weibo says: “Mélenchon, gave a passionate speech. He said that Taiwan is a province of China and that there is only one China in the world, with Beijing as its capital.

In another intervention, the candidate stated that “France should not follow blindly the political ideals of the USA” which found an important resonance within the Chinese online community.

French left-wing leader Jean-Luc Melenchon has publicly called for leaving NATO

This post says: “French left-wing leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon has publicly called for leaving NATO, calling the U.S.-led belligerent military cartel “useless” and “creating tensions everywhere. If there is one European country that can challenge NATO, it is France.

melenchon is calling on Europe to break away from the United States

This comment says: “He is calling on Europe to break away from the United States, not to fight with China and Russia, and instead proposed to strengthen cooperative relations with them, which will make the United States in Europe gradually recede.

But nonetheless, this commenter finds no hope that Jean-Luc Mélenchon will one day govern France.

, in Europe the Communist Party has no market

This comment says: “He is a French Communist, in Europe the Communist Party has no market, so say what you want to say, anyway, cannot be elected

Eric Zemmour 埃里克·澤穆爾
“The French Trump” – 法国特朗普

zemmour for french presidential elections 2022
Picture credit: Courier International.

Pro-China?

Chinese online commenters have just recently discovered the surprise candidate of this election, from the new party “Reconquête”, a strong advocate of French national independence, both from the European Union and from big economic powers like the USA and China.

This netizens says: “there a possibility that he’s not particularly right but is typed as far-right just because he doesn’t listen to the U.S.

He also criticized the multiple visits in China of elected president Macron aimed, according to him, at “selling luxury goods to the Chinese market”. On another note, he wants to stop all economic development support to China, quoting a recent “€140 million gift”.

What about the Chinese opinion?

On the Chinese Internet, the discussions revolve around the far-right stance of the candidate. His policies plan toward immigration are compared to those of Trump, and the Chinese seems to agree mostly on his independentist ideals, on which some of the netizen can relate to.

France wants to be a big country with a voice

This comment observes: “France wants to be a big country with a voice, regain “Gaullism”, and not be a vassal of some other countries.

But others remain skeptical of his program, fearing that that world would give birth to “yet again, another Trump”.

zemmour is another version of Trump

This comment says: “Here is another version of Trump, and there is also a Brazilian version. One Trump makes the world restless, if we have more than a few, how will the world look like?

Is Zemmour more on the right than Le Pen?

This other netizen asks: “Is he more on the right than Le Pen?”

Valerie Pecresse 瓦莱丽·佩克莱斯
“The China-Friendly female politician” – 对华友好的女政客

Pecresse: The China-Friendly female politician

Pro-China?

When searching the Chinese web, we found that Valerie Pecresse, the new leader of the right-wing party “Les Républicains” (LR) have had a generally friendly attitude toward China, emphasizing the important business, tourism, and environmental policies relations between the two countries.

This post reports the invitation of Valerie Pecresse of Yuan Jiajun, Secretary of the Zhejiang Provincial Party Committee, to attend the “2020 Paris Region Climate Change Conference” by video address.

She also visited China in 2018 as president of the Ile-de-France region. During that visit, she signed strategic partnerships with Beijing’s mayor Chen Jining for the development of smart-cities projects and launched a tourism cooperation with Zhejiang province.

What about the Chinese opinion?

This comment on Zhihu says: “she called on France to attract more Chinese tourists to come to France for tourism, and also to attract Chinese investors to invest in France.

Pecresse also publicly congratulated Huawei's research center for landing in France

This netizen follows by saying: “Pecresse also publicly congratulated Huawei’s research center for landing in France and believed that Huawei made the right choice to establish an R&D center in France.

Pecresse is French Angela Merkel

Others also compared her to the “French Angela Merkel

This is the most dependable woman

This commenter on Weibo says: “This is the most dependable woman.” when she won the party’s internal elections.

What about the other French Presidential Election candidates on Chinese social media?

Other candidates such as Yannick Jadot (Europe Ecologie Les Verts, EELV), Jean Lassalle (Résistons, RES), Nathalie Arthaud (Lutte Ouvrière, LO), Fabien Roussel (Parti Communiste Français, PCF), Anne Hidalgo (Parti Socialiste, PS), Philippe Poutou (Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste, NPA), and Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (Debout La France, DLF) have succeeded to reach the 500 signatures that validate their participation in the 2022 French elections.

But these candidates are almost unknown to the Chinese public, each of them representing less than 5% of projected votes in France. Little data has been found on Chinese social media concerning these candidates regarding the French presidential elections in China 2022.

How did the favorite candidates get the public attention during the French presidential elections in China 2022?

The attention of the world being obviously diverted toward the Ukraine geopolitical situation in early 2022, much less focus has been directed to this election.

From what we observed, Emmanuel Macron dominates the discussion online, and very little is said or searched about other candidates on the Chinese Internet (see Baidu Index at the beginning of this article).

Some Chinese news media outlets even shared polls from “Le Figaro Magazine” predicting that the actual French President reelection’s chances are approaching 80%.

“The only real suspense this year will be: who can enter the second round to accompany Macron?”

Xue Sheng, Lecturer at the Department of French studies within Shanghai International Studies University, sums up the situation quite well: “The only real suspense this year will be: who can enter the second round to accompany Macron?

The second round of French Presidential Elections in China 2022: the “French Dilemma”

Results of the first round of the 2022 French presidential elections have sparked reactions  by many observers on social media in China. There, 马克龙 (Emmanuel Macron) and 勒庞 (Marine Le Pen) reached the top ranks of the polls, respectively at 27.84% and 23.15%, closely followed by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who arrived third with 21.95% but didn’t qualify for the second round.

Source: thepaper.cn, “Reshuffling of political power after the first round of voting in the French election”

The People’s Daily, one of China’s main news outlets, titled: “The presidential election reflects the “French dilemma” 法国困境, citing rising tensions in France as the voters grow more divided.

Compared to the first round of the French presidential election 2022, Emmanuel Macron isn’t the most talked-about candidate on Chinese social media anymore. As the 2017 re-match is confirmed, more and more online watchers in China are discussing the possibility of a Le Pen victory, which could lead to “dramatic changes in European politics” according to Xuewei Liu, History Ph.D. from the University of Strasbourg.

Here is what we saw on the Chinese internet:

Despite a congested newsfeed, the second round of the 2022 French Presidential election is still making waves in China.

The Baidu Index  shown above, is a keyword index that reflects the total number of search inquiries on China’s leading search engine. It shows the evolution of search volume regarding the keyword ‘French Elections’ (法国大选).

After the first round of the election (March 22nd – April 17th 2022), the Baidu Index began increasing immediately following the first round winners’ announcements. The following day, the Baidu Index had jumped to reach 30,000 points, indicating a sharp rise in interest from Chinese netizens about what’s happening in France.

Baidu index evolution for Macron and Le Pen

(Before and after the first round)

According to previous Daxue Consulting research, the Baidu Index trend regarding French candidates showed a very important divide of interest between Macron and Le Pen online. Emmanuel Macron (in blue) was the hottest topic on Chinese social media before the first round, following the Ukraine war and his official declaration of candidature for the presidency. Marine le Pen (in green) was almost entirely excluded from Chinese people’s online searches before April 2022.

The graph above shows the evolution of the search volume between March 22nd and April 27th, showing a very different landscape.

Le Pen search index had multiplied 18 times in one week span, peaking following the publication of official results for the first round. Macron’s index reached half of Le Pen’s at the same time, showing that the Chinese netizen’s interest  was shifting, considering the possibility of a Le Pen win.

Main associated keywords for Emmanuel Macron (in the first circle, strongly related, and second circle, related): “Le Pen”, “French President”, and “Macron’s wife”.

On Le Pen’s side, words like “French election”, “French President” and “Far-Right” are among the top searches. A question arises among Chinese netizens questioning “Le Pen’s attitude toward China”, as the chances of her winning the elections seem to be higher than in 2017.

Main associated keywords for Marine Le Pen (in the first circle, strongly related, and second circle, related): “Le Pen’s attitude toward China”, “Far-Right”, and “French President”.

The French Dilemma “法国困境”

On the April 19th 2022, China Daily announced a “brutal situation that will determine the future of France” following the publication of the official results for the first round of the French presidential election.

Source: China Daily website

Emmanuel Macron – 马克龙
“Europe’s second engine”

Compared to the first round of the 2022 French Presidential elections, President Emmanuel Macron seems to be less discussed on Chinese online media in April.

This journalist shared: “So far, polls generally show Macron still has a high approval rating, with far-right candidate Le Pen close behind. The situation in Russia and Ukraine has added instability to the campaign and turned attention to foreign policy. The French presidential race is also characterized by a clear shift to the right and a split on the left.

Looking at the unrest caused by dealing with the Ukraine conflict and tense political situation at home, some Chinese watchers are concerned about the consequences of a potential defeat for Emmanuel Macron during the second round.

This netizen analyses the situation, saying that “Europe is powered by two engines, with the German one starting to burn black smoke. If Le Pen comes to power, Europe will lose its other engine. Even if planes with a single engine can still fly, it won’t last long and might force an abrupt landing.

Others are questioning with humor the strong links between the candidate and the United States:

In this post shared by a Chinese commenter, he asks: “French presidential election has begun, let’s see if the U.S. can keep Macron this time?

Other Chinese people on Zhihu commented: “The first round of French election results are out, and now the whole West is anxious for Macron!

What is certain during this election, is that the Chinese people are clearly dividing the two candidates into separate ideologies. One is seen as a “globalist pro-west”, and the other a “nationalist pro-Russia”.

Marine Le Pen – 勒庞
“Rethinking the European order”

Marine Le Pen, almost forgotten online before April, has seen a new burst of commentaries on Chinese social media when she attained the second round of the French presidential elections.

With the possibility of a win now more plausible than in 2017, commenters online are starting to discuss the implication of a Le Pen presidency in France.

China Daily published: “French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, president of the far-right party National Union, said she would propose strategic engagement between NATO and Russia after the end of the conflict in Ukraine.” which found relative support from Chinese people online.

These comments are saying: “Dissolve NATO” and “Support Le Pen

Following a commentary by The Global Times quoting the “strategic rapprochement” of Le Pen with Russia if she is elected, many netizens think that this move could be the mistake that will cost her the election.

This commenter says: “so you won’t be elected.

This other netizen says: “this comment, she won’t be elected.

Another commenter says: “haha I don’t know anything about their country, I’m curious if this stance of hers is good or bad for her election. Although I do not like this woman, I hope she is elected, because we like to see the play of different people.

Jean-Luc Melenchon – 梅朗雄
Can he become the surprise Prime Minister?

Only a few comments online covered the close-call defeat of candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon during this first round of the election.

Some netizens were curious about the recent comments of “La France Insoumise” party leader regarding the possibility of becoming France’s Prime Minister, if his clan can gather enough votes during the parliamentary elections set to be held in June 2022.

This commenter shares: “Melenchon […] is hoping the French citizens will give La France Insoumise a parliamentary majority so that he could become prime minister.”, followed by another netizen raising the question: “think there is a good chance that Melenchon will become Prime Minister?

Which candidate is poised to win according to Chinese netizens?

With such a congested newsfeed in China and abroad, it is understandable that the French elections might not be the absolute priority for Chinese netizens.

Nevertheless, commenters online are still playing the guessing game to find out which of the two candidates might be able to win the race.

This comment on Weibo says: “Macron will win the Elysee Palace for the second time and le Pen is once again out of the picture. Wait and see.”

This other netizen makes the assumption that: “The most obvious distinction between the two candidates in the French election is not between left and right, but between nationalism and internationalism.

Online watchers are aware of the important differences in style of governance and ideologies between Macron and Le Pen.

But for some, the most worrisome might be the fact that many people aren’t planning to vote next Sunday…

Another netizen apparently living in France at the moment seems concerned because people around him are saying they won’t go to vote on the 24th of April, which may favor Le Pen: “it is scary to observe that the French around me are already mourning and not ready to vote for a second round.

While the issue remains uncertain, the results will have profound implications for France and Europe. Online and offline, the excitement is building for observers in China…