France's first-time voters: 'I'm sure I'll be filled with emotion when I get to the voting booth'

·4-min read

Noélie, 18, will be voting for the first time in France's presidential elections next month. The literature student hails from a family of left-wingers who aren't big voters. But Noélie has thrown herself wholeheartedly into the electoral race, campaigning for far-right pundit Éric Zemmour. As for voting? She can't wait.

Old enough to vote just as the presidential election comes around, Noélie is restless, eager for her first chance to cast a ballot in the April 10 first round. "I'm sure I'll be filled with emotion when I get to the voting booth," a smiling Noélie told FRANCE 24. She wouldn't miss the opportunity for the world. "It's very important to go vote. It's a means of expression. Every vote counts. I don't forget that, when my grandmother was born, women weren't allowed to vote in France." And yet casting a vote isn't exactly a family tradition for Noélie. "My mother has invariably abstained and my father has always cast a blank [protest] ballot," she explained.

Now in her first year studying modern literature at the Sorbonne, Noélie spent her childhood moving from place to place for her mother's job as a middle-school head teacher. She joined Génération Z, the organisation of young people supporting Zemmour, back in June, months before the pundit-turned-politician made his bid for the presidency official. "I really liked the stances he took as an intellectual when he appeared on television. And when I heard rumours that he might stand as a candidate in the presidential election, I knocked on the door of the organisation to see how I could be useful," she said.

Fear of being relegated

Ever since, Noélie has been tirelessly distributing leaflets and pasting posters, as committed to her candidate as ever. She works with Les femmes avec Zemmour ("Women with Zemmour") as well as Génération Z to get the hardliner's message out. Although her family leans left, Noélie says she has always been more receptive to right-wing ideals. "But until now, I hadn't found a candidate who truly personified my ideas," she said. Conservative Les Républicains candidate "Valérie Pécresse represents everything I detest about the right: a candidate that isn't in sync with the line she takes and who advocates an economic liberalism that I don't identify with. And Marine Le Pen has completely changed direction," she said. "Finally, the more I learn about Éric Zemmour, the more validated I feel in my decision."

From a rural background, with labourer grandparents who saw the slow de-industrialisation of the mining belt in Moselle in eastern France, Noélie is above all sympathetic to Zemmour's rhetoric advocating for the French countryside. In particular, she appreciates the €10,000 payment Zemmour wants to allocate to families "from rural France" for every new birth to compensate for their transportation, childcare and housing fees. More broadly, Noélie identifies with the segment of France that her candidate says has been relegated to secondary status. "I have the impression that schooling is no longer enough to ensure the sort of social mobility that existed in my grandparents' time. Today, I feel like I can only regress," she said.

Praying 'very hard'

Indeed, while the literature student had, for a time, considered becoming a teacher, she isn't quite sure now what profession she would like to go into. Intoxicated by this presidential campaign, Noélie isn't ruling out working in political communications someday – although she has seen how violent can be. "We have often been insulted while handing out pamphlets. Some people have even been hit," she said. "It's hard. You need real moral strength. But I still believe that it's worth it because I'm persuaded that it can change people's lives."

In the meantime, Noélie already knows what she'll be doing on Election Day. Despite her family's atheism, Noélie is a practicing Catholic and she plans to go to church to pray "very hard" for her candidate before joining up with fellow activists to celebrate the election results. "Even if we don't win, we have made so much noise that our ideas can no longer be ignored," she said. The next objective for Noélie and her new friends? Winning as many seats as possible in the French legislative elections in June.

This is the fourth and final installment in a FRANCE 24 series on first-time voters ahead of the 2022 French presidential election. This article has been translated from the original in French.

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