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Why French far-right candidate Marine Le Pen is attracting youth

Marine Le Pen polls third across the entire electorate, but second among 18- to 22-year-olds, largely because they see her tough stance on immigration as the answer to their employment struggles. 

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French far-right National Front party leader Marine Le Pen gestures during a meeting with foreign correspondents ahead of the upcoming presidential elections, in Nanterre, near Paris on April 10.

Jacques Brinon/AP

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Although he has studied the French far-right party National Front for nearly two decades, even sociologist Sylvain Crépon didn’t expect party leader Marine Le Pen's popularity among young voters to reach the heights it has.

But distrust in mainstream politicians and the ongoing struggle to find jobs has made Ms. Le Pen increasingly popular with young voters – to the extent that she could get as many or even more votes from this age group than President Nicolas Sarkozy in the April 22 election.

A March poll of 18 to 22-year-olds by the French Institute of Public Opinion (IFOP) found that Le Pen scored 23 percent, putting her in second place among voters from that age group. Socialist Party candidate and frontrunner François Hollande earned 31 percent and Mr. Sarkozy scored 21 percent.

Because only the two candidates who get the most votes in the first round of the presidential election on April 22 qualify for the runoff, the survey is also seen as a symbolic defeat for Sarkozy among young voters.

Mr. Crépon, a research fellow at West Paris Nanterre La Défense University, says such a proportion of young voters planning to vote for a far-right presidential candidate is unheard of in France.

“I was surprised because it was a level that had never been reached before,” he says. “Granted, this is a poll; it’s not the election’s result. But it is true that it’s the first time that you see voting intentions that high among young people and particularly among those who are going to vote for the first time,” Crépon says.

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