This election raises the stakes for everyone, myself included. If Socialist Ségolène Royal wins, her promised policies will likely make it harder for would-be ex-pats like me to get gainful employment in France. But if conservative, free-market reformer Nicolas Sarkozy wins, the French welfare state (complete with a 35-hour work week and beaucoup de vacation (8 weeks per year) may very well go the way of the dodo bird, making France a less desirable career destination for me.
Sarkozy used a law and order appeal to scare people into getting to the polls. He also shifted his campaign language in the last months of the election, taking a decidedly authoritarian approach not unlike that of Jean-Marie Le Pen (the racist xenophobic Nationalist Front candidate). Exit polls indicate that older voters chose Sarkozy, while young picked Royal:
Almost half of French voters over age 70 cast their ballots on Sunday for the conservative candidate for president, Nicolas Sarkozy. Almost 30 percent of those ages 18 to 24 favored Ségolène Royal of the Socialist Party.Le Pen finished fourth, with 11% of the vote. His racist, far-right views were no doubt bolstered by les émeutes, the widescale violent clashes between disaffected ethnic Arab and African youth and police in 2005. While Paris was burning, Sarkozy also made much political hay with the issue.
BBC NEWS | Europe | French contenders set for run-off
The top two candidates in the first round of the French presidential election are beginning two weeks of intense campaigning for the run-off.
Centre-right candidate Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Segolene Royal defeated 10 others in Sunday's ballot, with a record voter turnout of nearly 85%.
Mr Sarkozy garnered 31% of the vote, while Ms Royal, bidding to be France's first female leader, took nearly 26%.
Centrist Francois Bayrou took 18%, and far-right Jean-Marie Le Pen almost 11%.
Voters are now faced with a clear left-right choice.
That political divide may be a return to French tradition, but both candidates are something new for France, says the BBC's Caroline Wyatt in Paris.
Mr Sarkozy, the son of a Hungarian immigrant, has a free market stance that sometimes seems closer to that of Britain or the US and an aggressive image that is also a departure from the patrician style of past presidents.
He is hated by the left as a reformer who many fear would change the French way of life by making the nation work harder and longer and by cutting back on its generous welfare state.
Ms Royal is a woman who fought her way to the candidacy against the will of her senior Socialist colleagues. Her campaign has been dogged by wrangles over policy and a series of gaffes.
She is a regional leader whose presidential pledges include a higher minimum wage along with a new form of youth job contract, to ensure that the young in France have a chance of entering the tough job market that all but the best-qualified feel excluded from.