A start-up boom in France was a core objective for Emmanuel Macron, a young leader elected president five years ago as a restless disrupter, promising to pry open the economy and make it competitive in the 21st century.
To some extent, Mr. Macron has succeeded, luring billions of euros in foreign investments and creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs, many in tech start-ups, in a country with a stubborn resistance to change. But disruption is just that, and the president has at the same time left many French feeling unsettled and unhappy, left behind or ignored.
The presidential election will be largely decided by perceptions of the economy. In Mr. Macron’s favor: The country has bounced back faster than expected from coronavirus lockdowns, with economic growth reaching 7 percent after a devastating pandemic-induced recession.
But the simultaneous spread of technology and inequality has posed acute problems, stirring social tensions. If a disenchanted France prevails, Marine Le Pen, the perennial candidate of the nationalist right, will most likely prevail, too.
It is two countries that will vote — a mainly urban France that sees the need for change to meet the era’s sweeping technological and economic challenges, and a France of the “periphery,” wary of innovation, struggling to get by, alarmed by immigration and resentful of a leader seen as embodying the arrogance of the privileged.
Which France shows up at voting booths in greater numbers will determine the outcome.