Here & Now's Robin Young speaks with Richard Pacelle, professor of political science at the University of Tennessee, to find some answers.
The first round of the French presidential elections will take place on Sunday. The top two vote-getters will face off in the second round on May 6.
Poll numbers have Socialist Francois Hollande in the lead, beating current President Nicolas Sarkozy by several points.
Complicating the race are far right and far left candidates, who are pulling in huge, enthusiastic crowds.
The right and left have a surprisingly similar message. They say that the European Union is not on the side of working people and that globalization benefits the elites. The BBC reports that message is resonating with voters, and as a result the left and right groups may take 30 percent of the vote. That dynamic has complicated the debate for the leading candidates.
Sarkozy has stopped talking about the need to make France more like Germany, and Hollande is openly critical of the German model of fiscal austerity. He argues that Europe needs to spend to grow its economy. If Hollande wins as projected, it will re-open the debate in Europe over how to tackle the debt crisis.