Macron vs. Le Pen: The French presidential election runoff explained

Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen will face each other in a runoff presidential election on Sunday, April 24 -- a rematch of the 2017 vote.

Paris (CNN)It's Macron vs. Le Pen, round two.

France's presidential election will be a rematch of the 2017 contest, when the far right's Marine Le Pen faced off against political newcomer Emmanuel Macron.
Macron won that race by nearly two votes to one.
    But while the candidates remain the same, the 2022 race is shaping up to be a very different affair.
      Here's everything you need to know.

        How does the election work?

        To elect their new President, French voters head to the polls twice.
          The first vote, on April 10, saw 12 candidates run against each other. They qualified for the race by securing endorsements from 500 mayors and/or local councilors from across the country.
          Macron and Le Pen received the most votes, but since neither won more than 50%, they will head to a runoff on Sunday.
          This isn't the only national vote France faces this year -- parliamentary elections are also due to take place in June.

          What dates do I need to know?

          Macron and Le Pen held one debate on the evening of April 20 that was aired by French broadcasters France 2 and TF1.
          Le Pen appeared much more prepared than in the event in 2017, when her poor performance effectively doomed her campaign. Le Pen attacked Macron on economic measures, arguing he hasn't done enough to help French families cope with inflation and rising energy prices, while Macron went after Le Pen's ties to Russia and previous support for President Vladimir Putin.
          A poll from CNN affiliate BFM TV found that 59% of voters found Macron to be the more presidential of the two.
          The runoff election will then take place on Sunday April 24.
          Candidates are not allowed to campaign the day before the vote, or on election day itself, and the media will be subject to strict reporting restrictions from the day before the election until polls close at 8 p.m. Sunday in France.

          What do the polls show?

          A much closer contest than the 2017 election.
          Macron and Le Pen both increased their total share of the vote in this year's first round compared with 2017, but surveys ahead of the first round earlier this month showed Le Pen enjoyed a late surge of support in March.
          Polling by Ifop-Fiducial released on April 10 suggests Macron would win a second-round contest against Le Pen by just 51% to 49%. Macron's advantage has slightly increased in the days since the first round results came in, according to the same polling.
          Political analysts often say the French vote with their heart in round one, then vote with their head in round two -- meaning they choose their ideal candidate first, then opt for the lesser of two evils in the second round.
          Macron saw this play out in 2017. He and Le Pen scored 24% and 21.3% of the first round vote and then 66.1% and 33.9% in the second round, respectively.
          To be reelected, Macron will likely need to convince far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon's supporters to back him. Melenchon came in third place with 22% of the vote. On Sunday, Melenchon told his supporters "we must not give a single vote to Mrs. Le Pen," but did not explicitly back Macron.
          Most losing candidates urged their supporters to back Macron to block the far right from winning the presidency.
          Eric Zemmour, a right-wing former TV pundit known for his inflammatory rhetoric, urged his supporters to back Le Pen.

          What are French people expecting?

          The unexpected.
          At the start of 2022, the election looked set to be an important referendum on the rising popularity of the French far right. It has been 20 years since a French President was reelected, so the vote was shaping up to be one of the country's most watched political races in decades.
          Then Russia invaded Ukraine.
          With Europe's eyes fixed firmly on Putin's bloody war, priorities have quickly shifted: Ammunition stockpiles, high-stakes diplomacy and even the threat of a nuclear strike have all entered the national debate.
          Macron assumed the role of Europe's statesman, taking him away from the campaign trail, while Le Pen was forced to backtrack on her previous support for Putin.

          What else has changed in the past five years?

          France's political landscape, for one.
          Macron's election effectively blew up the traditional center of French politics. In years past, many of his voters would have flocked to the traditional center-left and center-right parties, the Socialists and the Republicans.
          But Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, the Socialist candidate, and Valérie Pécresse, the Republican candidate, failed to persuade voters to abandon the centrist candidate already in office. Both polled under 5% in the first round.

          What else do I need to know about Macron and Le Pen?

          Macron is an ex-investment banker and alumnus of some of France's most elite schools. He was a political novice before becoming President, and this is only the second political election he has ever stood in.
          But he is no longer an upstart and must run on a mixed record.
          His ambitious plan to bolster the European Union's autonomy and geopolitical heft won him respect abroad and at home, even though his attempts to win over Donald Trump or to prevent the AUKUS submarine deal, and his unsuccessful diplomatic efforts to avert war in Ukraine could be considered failures.
          Macron's domestic policies are more divisive and less popular. His handling of the yellow vest movement, one of France's most prolonged protests in decades, was widely panned, and his record on the Covid-19 pandemic is inconclusive.
          Macron's signature policy during the crisis -- requiring people to show proof of vaccination to go about their lives as normal -- helped increase vaccination rates but fired up a vocal minority against his presidency.
          Ahead of the first round of this election, Macron refused to debate his opponents, and he has hardly campaigned himself. While his pole position in the race has never really been under threat, experts believe his strategy has been to avoid the political mudslinging as long as possible to keep the focus on his image as the most presidential of all the candidates.
          Le Pen is the most recognizable figure of the French far right. She is the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, who founded the National Front, the predecessor to Le Pen's current political party.
          The younger Le Pen has attempted to rebrand the party, as it has long been viewed as racist and anti-Semitic.
          This is her third shot at the presidency. This year and in 2017, she outperformed her father in the first round of the vote.
          In 2017, Le Pen campaigned as France's answer to Trump: A right-leaning firebrand who vowed to protect France's forgotten working class from immigrants, globalization and technology that was rendering their jobs obsolete.
          Since then, she has abandoned some of her most controversial policy proposals, like leaving the European Union.
          But by and large, her economic nationalist stance, views on immigration, skepticism of Europe and position on Islam in France -- she wants to make it illegal for women to wear headscarves in public -- have not changed. "Stopping uncontrolled immigration" and "eradicating Islamist ideologies" are her manifesto's two priorities.
          Le Pen has, however, attempted to soften her tone, especially around Islam and the EU in the wake of Brexit.
          Instead, she has campaigned hard on pocketbook issues, promising measures that she claims will put 150 euros to 200 euros ($162 to $216) in the coffers of each household, including a pledge to remove sales tax from 100 household goods.
          The strategy appears to have worked.
          Le Pen's performance in the first round of the 2022 presidential election was her best result in the three times she has run.

          What are the biggest issues for French voters?

          The cost of living is among the top is