Le Pen tries to ‘take the politics out’ of her image in new campaign poster

Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen heads into her second-round duel with President Emmanuel Macron with a new poster at the heart of her campaign, plastered with the new slogan “For all French people”. This marks the latest step in her communication strategy aimed at “de-demonising” her party.

Le Pen unveiled on Tuesday her new campaign poster for the April 24 second round. Gone is the previous poster zoomed in on her smiling face, above the line “Stateswoman”. Now we have a similarly smiley photo of her in a bare office setting, with the words “For all French people”.

On the face of it, the new poster is “quite typical” for second-round candidates keen for a “less partisan image enabling them to reach voters beyond their core support”, said Marion Ballet, an expert on political communication at Paris-Saclay University.

Like Macron’s second-round poster, Le Pen’s makes no reference to her party. In both cases, this is a “response” to French people’s “growing mistrust of the political party structure”, Ballet said.

The omission of Le Pen’s name, meanwhile, can be seen as a continuation of her strategy to normalise the National Rally party (Rassemblement National or RN) and rid it of associations with her father Jean-Marie, the party’s founder and leader from 1972 to 2011. She wants to get rid of the “sectarian” image the name Le Pen still conjures amongst large parts of the French electorate, Ballet pointed out.

‘A more modest image’

So the image says a lot about Le Pen’s bid for political respectability, even if the “substance of her discourse remains xenophobic, however softened it might seem”, said Stéphane Wahnich, a political scientist at Tel Aviv University and author of the book Marine Le Pen prise aux mots : décryptage du nouveau discours frontiste (“Marine Le Pen’s Use of Language: Uncovering the National Front’s New Discourse”).

Le Pen’s new poster also prompts a telling comparison with her poster for her first face-off against Macron in 2017, which showed her sitting on a wooden table with a bookcase in the background – “reminiscent”, as Wahnich puts it, of the august décor of the Élysée Palace.

Such a change shows that she does not want to jump ahead and conjure an image of herself in the president’s grand residence before the vote, Wahnich continued: This time, “she wants to portray a more modest image”.

The way Le Pen sat in that 2017 picture – sitting nonchalantly at that stately desk, with her skirt going up above the knee – was a “rather provocative posture showing her as an unabashedly feminine candidate”, said Jean-Philippe De Oliveira, a specialist in political communication at Grenoble Alpes University.

The new poster is “simpler, without the provocative aspect”, De Oliviera continued. It allows her to “look the part” by “suggesting that she understands what it means to run for the presidency”, he went on.

Marine Le Pen's campaign poster and slogan for the second round of the 2017 French presidential election is pictured during a press conference for its presentation on April 26, 2017 in Paris. AFP – THOMAS SAMSON

‘Presenting herself as a normal person’

This more humble image also suggests she will give a more competent performance than her greatly criticised showing in the 2017 debate against Macron – when he calmly reeled off economic figures while she took recourse to her notes mid-sentence.

The softer self-projection even extends to the font Le Pen is using on her poster. “She opted for round, relatively thin letters for her slogan, connoting a non-aggressive image,” Wahnich said.

And above all, there is Le Pen’s smile. “It’s a frank smile, unlike the one in the 2017 poster,” said Christian Delporte, a specialist in the history of political communication also at Paris-Sarclay University. “It’s a way of placing her own personality centre stage – because Le Pen thinks she’s succeeded in creating a positive public image in France and that she’s got to capitalise on this in order to reach out beyond her party’s usual voters,” Delporte continued.

This depiction of a breezily smiling woman – with a “simple, modest” air – fits in well with Le Pen’s communication strategy since the start of her campaign, Ballet noted. The RN leader “made her cats into social media stars”, Ballet continued; Le Pen has also made much of Ingrid, her best friend since childhood, living with her as a “housemate”.

Thus Le Pen is “taking the politics out of her message in favour of a bid to present herself as a normal person”, Ballet added.

Le Pen the girl next door is by no means a popular campaign image amongst far-right grandees: “It’s an obvious break with the movement’s traditional approach to communication, which is focused on the image of a strong leader whom people can rally around,” Wahnich put it.

Two messages in one slogan

But it is perfectly natural for Le Pen to prioritise this kind of image: It marks the latest stage in the strategy she’s worked on since taking the reins from her father in 2011 – a strategy based on “de-demonising” her party; the approach encapsulated in its name change replacing Front with Rally in 2018.

“This poster represents the logical conclusion of this de-demonisation strategy,” Wahnlich said. “It’s very different from the message Jean-Marie Le Pen conveyed with his famous ‘Le Pen, le peuple’ posters [used from the late 1980s to the late 1990s] – there’s no longer any reference to the people, so it’s not the same populist phrasing.”

Nevertheless, De Oliveira said, Le Pen’s “For all French people” slogan operates on two levels: “On one level, it’s the most neutral of messages, because all incoming presidents say they will work for all French people. In this light, her choice of words is acceptable to all voters, in particular those who cast their ballots for Jean-Luc Mélenchon [the far-left populist who came a close third in the first round, garnering some 22 percent of the vote].”

At the same time, Wahnich added, there is a subtle but crucial difference with Macron’s slogan, “All of us”: By adding the word “French”, Le Pen is “excluding those she doesn’t see as French”.

This article was translated from the original in French.

Artmotion S.Africa

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