I read that Le Pen is courting Mélenchon (the 3rd place finisher) voters for the upcoming runoff election against Macron. However, I thought Mélenchon was the socialist candidate, so won't all of his voters tend towards Macron in the runoff?
H Huang's comment is basically correct. Both Le Pen and Melenchon have fairly similar approaches to the hot topic of the day, the war-related inflation.
The war has provided Le Pen with a magic weapon: the cost of living issue. She has deftly refocused her campaign, promoting herself as the protector of those most affected by price rises. Sanctions against Russia, she argues, should not hurt the French people. She has promised to suppress the value added tax on a basket of basic goods and to erase petrol hikes. Soon enough, the cost of living became the number one concern on voters’ minds. Le Pen’s poll numbers went up. Macron’s went down.
On walls near Lidl in Guéret, posters for the hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who is rising in the polls, promised he would “block prices” for essential goods.
According to the latter source, Zemmour lost recently in the polls for the same reason: Le Pen switched focus on “the impoverishment of the population”, while Zemmour stuck with the traditional far-right themes; "islamization" is no longer that hot of a topic though.
Additionally, both Le Pen and Melenchon have been described as "anti-German", because they seek to to reduce German influence in the EU. From FT:
Le Pen is busy trying to justify her programme, which advocates a “security alliance” with Russia and the end of joint defence projects with Germany. “This was before the war”, she replied in a television interview this week when asked about the co-operation with Russia. But sure enough, “in a few years’ time”, she said, Russia will have to be reconnected to Europe to prevent it from falling into China’s arms — “just as Mr Macron wanted”.
And (somewhat farther back, during the 2017 election cycle) Mélenchon has also been described as "essentially a nationalist, despite his internationalist credo".
Consider his anti-German narrative. In a tense country like today’s France, old antagonisms can quickly be reactivated. In his 2015 book Bismarck’s Herring (The German Poison), Mélenchon wrote that “Germany is again a danger”, its “imperialism” is “returning”, and the EU is its “new empire”. [...]
Nor is Mélenchon as refugee-friendly as some would like to think. He’s suggested that he’d prefer to see “10,000 doctors” settle in France rather than a wave of huddled masses. “I’ve never been in favour of freedom of arrival,” he’s said. He’s also on record accusing some foreign workers of “stealing their bread” from French workers. There is much more of Italy’s firebrand populist Beppe Grillo about him than Spain’s Podemos.
Both of these are basically themes pretty close to Le Pen's.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s traditional brand of republicanism has for long been patriotic. Most of his speeches are peppered with vibrant references to la patrie. [...]
Mélenchon sees the unity of the Republic (France’s ‘one and indivisible’ according to the first article of the Constitution of the 5th Republic) as untouchable, if not sacrosanct. For instance, he inveighs against the European Regional Languages Charter on the grounds that it grants ‘specific rights’ to people according to their linguistic practice. The then European Member of Parliament argued that this would be contrary to the principle of equality of all citizens before the French law (Mélenchon 2014b). [...]
The FI leader sings the praises of France as global power, spanning all the world’s seas and oceans. He wants France to quit NATO, for instance, but, like Charles de Gaulle, in order to better defend its interests and prestige around the world. Mélenchon regards all French overseas territories not as colonised countries, but as fully part of France (Branchi & Philippe 2012).
Although Mélenchon is a former socialist himself, he refuses to make alliances with other left-wing parties nowadays, e.g. he described the communists as "death and nothingness", even though they had (rather belatedly) endorsed his candidacy in 2017. (same source as above)
People who vote for Mélenchon's party as opposed to other remnants of the left in France, should probably have those things in mind, so attracting them to Le Pen's camp shouldn't be all that hard... in theory. The irony is that despite all those ideological similarities with Le Pen, in 2017, only 4% of Mélenchon's voters voted for Le Pen in the runoff. Apparently, the main reason for this was that despite redefining his ideology as "humanist" Marxism (and also self-avowed populist), which opposes the 99% to the 1%, while abandoning traditional emphasis on class struggle, mainly voters traditionally affiliated with the left had voted for him in the first round.
However, I thought Melenchon was the socialist candidate, so won't all of his voters tend towards Macron in the runoff?
Let me first note that Jean-Luc Melenchon is not a "socialist candidate" - although he spend about two decades in the French Socialist Party (Partie socialist), he always represented its communist wing and later left to form an alliance with the hardcore communist movements, Front de Gauche (Left Front), before founding his own movement La France Insoumise. At best he could be described as between the Socialists and the French Communist Party.
It is also worth noting that Melenchon has already called for his supporters not to vote for Marine Le Pen.
The similarity between the Melenchon's and Le Pen's movements goes back a few election cycles, and has to do, first of all, with the general similarity between the extreme-left and extreme-right movements (although after the first round of the presidential elections these cannot be anymore considered extreme, since the traditional mainstream parties have been essentially eliminated from the political scene).
Another reason for similarity is that political affiliation is often a matter of convenience and historical reasons, rather than strict ideological positions (think, e.g., about how the attitudes of American Republicans and Democrats changed over history on subjects like black rights, isolationism, or nuclear disarmament, etc.)
Both Melenchon and Le Pen present themselves as anti-establishment candidates, although there are some caveats:
- Melenchon's anti-establishment credentials have been questioned, e.g., by Emmanuel Macron, who once remarked that Melenchon had already been a senator when Macron himself was still in the middle school ("Il était sénateur, j'étais encore au collège.")
- Since the previous presidential election Marine Le Pen has been adapting to more mainstream voters, notably abandoning some of her extreme positions
The second bullet is important, since up to recently the two candidates have shared the anti-European sentiment, promising Frexit (the French analogue of Brexit). Another important similarity is the cult-like nature of the two movements, built around a specific leader.
Finally, these similarities has not arisen recently, as over the years there have been a flow of people between the two movements. Moreover, the leaders have been aware of it, as they tried directly to appeal to the supporters of the other: e.g., Melenchon has coined the expression "fâchés mais pas fachos" directed at the supporters of Le Pen ("angry but not fascists", where the French terms for "angry" and "fascist" have similar sound.)
Other answers have examined the extent and nature of the similarities between the political positions of Le Pen and Melenchon. However, I would further argue that, even if there were no meaningful similarities whatsoever, it is quite likely that there would be a non-trivial degree of overlap in their voting blocs.
This is because they are both, in many respects, "something-different" candidates. What I mean by this is that they appeal to people who don't really know what they want, but know that it's something different to what they have at the moment. Note that this position, although similar, is slightly distinct from antiestablishmentarianism. Compared to the anti-establishment voter, the "something-different" voter is more likely to have little interest in politics or engagement with political parties.
This phenomenon appears to be widespread in representative democracies. Another example was provided by the voter overlap between voters for the (anti-EU) United Kingdom Independence Party and (pro-EU) Liberal Democrats in British elections. Both of these parties had a reputation for being "something-different", or "protest" parties. This Yougov survey from 2013 found that 15% of people intending to vote for UKIP claimed to have voted for the Liberal Democrats in 2010. Yougov's own commentary on this apparent contradiction:
There’s nothing new in supporters from the pro-EU Lib Dems switching to the anti-EU UKIP – they are the kind of Lib Dem voters whose choice was driven by a dislike for the two big parties rather than enthusiasm for Brussels.
So, even without looking at Le Pen and Melenchon's political positions in detail, we can understand why they might well "share" voters to some extent.
Because it makes sense to.
According to IPSOS poll of April 8th, Melenchon folk are, very roughly going to do the following in round 2: 36% votes for Macron, 27% (already) votes for Le Pen, 37% undecided.
If she catches any sizable proportion of the undecided with a "Never Macron, never" message this pads her numbers directly. And noting that 27% are already heading that way, for reasons already alluded to in some other answers. That proportion of undecideds is the biggest listed below, drawn from the biggest pool (Melenchon having come in 3rd place), making this the biggest prize as well.
So, to answer how could : because a large number of them are already predisposed to do so so there must be more overlap than seems superficially obvious.
Melenchon and Le Pen are both anti-establishment, populist, "common sense" candidates: they appeal to those who think the regular way to govern "doesn't work". "Drain the swamp", "take back power from the elites", "national interests first".... Melenchon himself is hard left by French standards, not center left like the French Socialists and extreme right and extreme left sometimes converge, at least according to Horseshoe Theory (which is not without its critics).
Dimanche soir, lors de son discours suivant l’annonce de sa qualification pour le second tour, la candidate a invité « tous ceux qui n’ont pas voté » pour M. Macron à la « rejoindre », en défendant un projet de « justice sociale » et de « protection », clin d’œil appuyé aux électeurs du candidat « insoumis ».
Sunday evening, during her speech following the announcement of her qualification for the second round, the candidate invited "all those who did not vote" for Mr. Macron to "join her", defending a project of "justice social" and "protection", a nod to the voters of the "rebellious" (Melenchon) candidate.
She's not going to win, this time. But that party has been normalized to get to 2nd round by now and her score - which will probably be around 40% - is a far cry from the 20% that upset so many people when Le Pen Sr got it in the 2nd round against Chirac.
But also, technocratic neoliberal policy generally works well for educated + high/ medium high income elites. Whereas working class voters prefer labor politics or have reactionary views that are skeptical of these elites and globalist technocratic policies that have lead down workers in order to preserve institutions created by elites that prefer less spending, less welfare etc. Eg. the troika's influence on the EU
Melenchon rank himself beeing radical left. I am not so sure about that. He is, described by former aides, an autocrate who admire autocrates. Before the war in Ukraine, he praised Putin and other autocrates commitment many times. It tooks 3 days before he denounced the war. He is an anti-european. Even if he doesn't say it explicitly, it's clearly written in its political program that he won't respect international treaties France signed, explicitly referencing European Union treaties. He is an antisemit, which behavior his sidekicks tries to shut down. That's ideas that are not so far than Le Pen's ones. Even if he calls not for giving any voice to Le Pen, it's not that obvious that his electors won't choose Le Pen for the second turn.