The French had some of us worried a bit for a second. On the eve of their elections, 9 gigabytes worth of campaign documents from Emmanuel Macron’s en Marche! Party were hacked and leaked raw to the public. Americans, does this sound familiar to you? It seems that the common denominator that plagued the US and French elections are populist Internet trolls and hackers who play aggressively dirty. The difference is that these hacking schemes weren’t successful in swaying the undecided French votership to radically side with Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front. It barely scratched Macron’s campaign as he finished on Sunday with a stunning victory of 66.06% of the vote. Given the parallels of such terrible timing and shady motives in both US and French elections, it raises the question: why did Macron prevail despite the foul play while Hillary Clinton didn’t?
Every politician has skeletons in their closets that their opponents are eager to reveal. However, the development of these unsubstantiated en Marche! document leaks were too late and too weak to inflict much injury to Macron’s already solid political platform. From the beginning, his reputation had mustered enough trust among the French public than we can say for Hillary Clinton in the U.S. In the age of fake news, automated accounts (bots), and hacking, Macron had three important aspects that helped safeguard his victory in the final hour.
Political Outsider vs. Political Elite
First, Macron’s profile as a political outsider brought positive initial recognition because it disassociated him from flawed political elites like François Hollande or Nicolas Sarkozy. Against the backdrop of anti-establishment sentiments across the US and Europe, it proved to be more advantageous than ever to brag about one’s political virginity. With Le Pen as the other political outsider, it sometimes even boiled down to a battle of who is more untainted or untouched from the establishment. During the final debate, Le Pen went to as far as making a desperate attempt at labeling Macron as a clone of Hollande. Her ungrounded accusations revealed nothing because Macron’s resume clearly shows that his experiences and activities are outside the realm of the arrogant elites. Hillary Clinton cannot be anymore different in this aspect. Her position as the former first lady, as well as her term as the Senator of New York and Secretary of State clearly shines a blatant light of political elitism on Clinton, making her the poster girl of the Washington Swamp that frustrated voters yearn to drain.
New Political Party Offering a Hopeful Future vs. Established Party with a Damaged History
Second, Macron’s newly formed centrist political party, en Marche! is only around a year old. It offers a new face and a fresh start. The Democratic National Convention (DNC), along with their Republican counterparts, shares a history of rigid and stubborn tactics that fostered political deadlocks and government shutdowns. When Hillary became the democratic nominee, she inherited a similar image as her party. She shouldered the burden of scrutiny for the Russian hacked emails of John Podesta, as well as the hacked emails of the DNC that sought to undercut fellow democratic candidate Bernie Sanders in favor of Hillary Clinton.
Solid Candidate vs. Scandal-Ridden Candidate
Third, aside from this latest hack, Macron had already endured several cyber attacks previously before but it failed to reveal anything substantial against him. Obviously the objective of the hacking in the final hours of the election was to create confusion and chaos. Since nothing interesting surfaced, the culprits even desperately faked documents about Macron’s “offshore accounts,” but it was quickly debunked. If Macron had anything dubious, he was smart enough not to put it online. The same cannot be said about Clinton whose candidacy was controversial from the start. Haunted with her unsecured email server scandal, as well as the Benghazi calamity that both lasted for months (maybe almost a year), it was an uphill battle for Hillary to even win trust from the public from the beginning of her campaign.
Although the final candidates in both the US and French elections did not adequately reflect the needs and desire of the majority, more undecided voters settled with Macron whose reputation and background proceeded to be more trustworthy than Hillary’s. Even before the hacking incident took place, Macron was on solid ground as opinion polls forecasted a Macron win of around 60% to Le Pen at 40%. In the end, more people actually favored Macron as the lesser-of-two-evils than Hillary Clinton.
Hillary probably provoked groans and eyeball rolling from critics when she addressed her campaign loss for the first time at the Women for Women International event in New York. According to Hillary, “If the election had been on October 27, I would be your president.” Her self-reflection partly puts blame on Jim Comey’s letter on October 28 and Russian WikiLeaks. Yes, timing does play an influential role, especially when indecisiveness and doubt were abundant in the U.S. elections, but it’s not the core reason in Hillary’s case. With already low level of public trust, the timing of these last minute interventions became the final card to bring down her house of cards. Restarting the Clinton email investigation one month before Election Day definitely raised further doubts among those wavering voters who were inclined for her but opted instead to vote for Trump as the lesser of two evils.
The late timing of Macron’s cyber attack last Friday has arguably softened the blow. The en Marche! documents were hacked and released in its raw state only 48 hours before final ballots were casted on Sunday. Without any official and thorough investigation to verify or confirm its authenticity, it proved difficult to affect even the undecided voters. Clinton’s email scandal had official government investigation all over it, raising serious concerns of a potential security breach.
Election Laws and Smarter Voters
Macron enjoyed two external conditions that Hillary couldn’t. Unlike the U.S., France has electoral laws that forbid new developments in the final days of an election in order to safeguard the election progress. After the breached data spread across the Internet, the French election campaign commission intervened to urge its citizens to ignore it to protect the integrity of the French vote. Although the laws make it illegal for the French press and media to publish the leaked documents, it also bars any kind of last minute campaigning such as candidate events, media commentary, interviews, candidate postings on social media, etc. Luckily Macron beat the clock before the blackout went in effect and managed at 11:56 PM on Friday to send an official statement to journalists condoning the hacks. He was already on his way towards winning, but these French laws definitely added an extra layer of defense against Friday’s foul interventions.
Lastly, it’s ultimately up to the voters to decide whom they want as president. They get to choose how many facts or fake news they are willing to accept as truth. To put it bluntly, the French voters were much smarter than the American voters. The backlash against traditional press and media has propagated election-related information on propaganda and fake news sources but more French voters were unconvinced of it. An Oxford University study showed that people discussing French politics over social media preferred higher quality information sources than those discussing U.S. politics. Further research indicated that the dissemination of low quality content used comparatively less bots than in the U.S. Observations of the Oxford researchers, Bakamo, revealed that twice as many election-related links reposted by French users actually led to quality news stories than by American users. In 2016, this comparison had a ratio of almost 1-to-1. So Americans, you should take a better look at yourself. You really should.