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Marine Le Pen is now France’s second most popular politician

Will it be fourth time lucky? Credit: Getty

September 7, 2023 - 1:15pm

According to a new Viavoice poll, Marine Le Pen is now France’s second most popular politician, only behind former prime minister and potential centrist presidential candidate Édouard Philippe. This might not seem surprising at first: Le Pen has reached the last two presidential runoffs and boasts the second largest contingent in parliament. But it will still be a shock for older generations of French citizens who remember her controversial father, Jean-Marie, and the extreme origins of her party, now known as Rassemblement National (RN).

Marine has remained an immigration hardliner but has also detoxified the RN brand by tacking her party, traditionally a home for shopkeepers and small business owners, to the Left on welfare and economics. While keeping the historic south-eastern stronghold, her social stances have made the post-industrial north of France, previously a Left-wing bastion, her new fiefdom (she has been an MP in a northern district since 2017). 

Yet Le Pen’s appeal is truly national. In the first round of last year’s presidential election, she only decisively trailed Emmanuel Macron in the over-60s age category, beating the President in every working-age category. She also beat Macron in the first five income deciles. 

On the coattails of her defeat, she garnered 88 seats in parliament, making RN the second largest party in the National Assembly. As part of her branding operation, she implemented what the media dubbed the “strategy of the suit and tie”: rather than acting like rambunctious agitators, her MPs slowly built their profiles and tactfully supported cross-party initiatives. As a result, according to the same Viavoice poll, RN is now deemed the most credible party not just on immigration but also on education, welfare, pensions, energy and even on discrimination.

In stark contrast, Jean-Luc Mélenchon and his Left-wing party La France Insoumise opted for a strategy of constant parliamentary guerrilla warfare. Despite months of protests and strikes against Macron’s raising the legal retirement age to 64 years, which should have made for fertile electoral grounds for the Left, Mélenchon is now the most widely rejected French politician, with 69% holding a negative opinion of him. 

But Le Pen’s occupation of her electoral gold mine might not be completely unassailable. Éric Zemmour’s bombastic 2022 presidential run could have sunk her political career, with many ambitious RN bigwigs mulling joining Zemmour when his polls overtook hers. Eventually, she wrestled back momentum, but a domino effect felt like a distinct possibility. 

Internally, Le Pen’s young right-hand man Jordan Bardella (also the third most popular politician in France) could provide an exciting alternative with his remarkable rise from a working-class background to political wunderkind. During the 2022 campaign, she ruled out a fourth presidential run, but has since softened her position. RN has always relied on its figurehead, whether Le Pen or her father. A diverse collection of growing profiles could be a strength for the party; equally, it could pave the way for fierce internecine skirmishes. 

If Le Pen keeps control of her political lane it remains to be seen whether she has done enough to break the presidential “glass ceiling”. The French system has become a race between moribund establishment parties and fresh upstarts to snatch the coveted runoff spot against Le Pen in what has so far been a guaranteed first-class ticket to the Élysée presidential palace thanks to an instinctive “everyone but Le Pen” voting response. Mélenchon’s supporters, for example, despite their intense rejection of Macron were still four times more likely to vote for him than Le Pen in the 2022 runoff. 

With Macron out of the picture for 2027 (despite his grumblings about the “damnable bullshit” of the two-term limit), fearful centrists need not lose all hope yet. Philippe, Macron’s first prime minister, remains France’s best liked politician, according to this month’s poll. His popularity and the recurring aversion to Le Pen, even if it is increasingly strained, may be enough to fend her off.


François Valentin is co-host of the Uncommon Decency podcast and a Senior Researcher at Onward’s Social Fabric Programme.

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Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago

Your final sentence says it all:-“may be enough to fend her off”.
Let’s hope NOT. France is as sclerotic as we are, and perhaps MLP will change that before it is too late.
Sadly we in the wretched UK have absolutely no equivalent to her.
In fact all we can say is we currently have the most worthless Parliament of outright charlatans (both sides) in living memory!
Would anyone seriously want to ‘share a trench’ with any of them?

Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
9 months ago

Jonny Mercer is the only one I would even consider ‘sharing a trench’ with.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago
Reply to  Mike Doyle

Yes, agreed.

Chipoko
Chipoko
9 months ago
Reply to  Mike Doyle

Thank you for expressing what I feel, but more eloquently!

Paul Castle
Paul Castle
9 months ago

An excellent post Charles !

Ben Shipley
Ben Shipley
9 months ago

Why fend her off? It’s time give her vision a chance. Certainly can’t be any worse than the last few Presidencies. All the ideological left wing nonsense about her is as old and tired in France as it is elsewhere.

Paul Castle
Paul Castle
9 months ago

2nd ? Not in my book 1

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
9 months ago

Putin’s putain.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
9 months ago

She will never be a Trump because the French associate her with the Vichy tradition.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago
Reply to  Tyler Durden

Most of France was Vichy until the summer of 1944, when it was all too obvious that they had LOST.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
9 months ago

British and Americans have no idea on this issue of le Front National in France.
I am conservative-leaning but Marine Le Pen has simply jumped on the populist bandwagon, finding it necessary to rename her party owing to their past associations.
Her father Jean-Marie Le Pen was regarded as neo-Fascist, and his party equivalent to the British National Party (for Americans, the racist National Front).
What has happened is that the populist insurgency of the last 6-7 years has sought representation and only Marine Le Pen was available on the political landscape. But Eric Zemmour also realised this and caused her some problems in the last presidentials.
In the UK, for instance, Nigel Farage would have got nowhere as a Brexit campaigner, if he’d had the history of Marine, Jean-Marie and their family party.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago
Reply to  Tyler Durden

So in short you are saying JMLP IS the equivalent of our the late, Sir Oswald Moseley?

Russell Sharpe
Russell Sharpe
9 months ago

Surely the key French LOSS was in 1940?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago
Reply to  Russell Sharpe

Yes, hence wholeheartedly Vichy until mid 1944.