March 22, 2022 - 1:30pm

A French opinion poll (below) out this week shows support for Éric Zemmour at its lowest point since the Right-winger declared his candidacy in November. With just 9% of the vote for the first round of the presidential election, he’s now in fifth place.

Another poll this week has him in fourth place, but a few weeks ago he was vying for second place, which would have got him through to the run-off round against Emmanuel Macron. So what happened?

The most obvious new factor is the war in Ukraine. Though Zemmour has condemned the invasion, prior to the conflict he sympathised with the Russian position and opposed the expansion of NATO. In 2018, he was quoted as saying that he “dreams of a French Putin”. And while that’s not exactly what he said (most of the words were in a question to which he agreed), it’s still embarrassing. 

If the Putin factor is to blame for Zemmour’s declining support, then one has to ask why the same hasn’t happened to rival Right-wing candidate, Marine Le Pen. She too has been embarrassed by her alleged closeness to Putin. Not least because there’s the photograph of her shaking hands with the Russian President, which still features on her campaign material. Yet while Zemmour’s position deteriorates, Le Pen is now firmly in second place.

What explains their diverging fortunes? It’s possible that Zemmour’s voters are more sensitive to events in Ukraine than Le Pen’s. The alternative explanation is that Ukraine has got very little to do with it — and that populist voters are simply gravitating towards the candidate with the best chance against Macron. 

The Putin theory would be strengthened if there was evidence of an anti-populist backlash elsewhere in Europe. But, looking at recent polls, there’s not much to be found. 

In Italy, support for Matteo Salvini’s League party continues to slip. However, this is consistent with the long-term trend, which also has support rising for the Brothers of Italy, the other Right-wing populist party. 

In the Netherlands, support for Thierry Baudet’s Forum for Democracy party is sharply down on last year’s general election result, but that is consistent with the greatly enhanced position of JA21, a rival Right-wing party which split from the FvD. As in Italy, this shift in support between populists was already in evidence before the invasion. 

In Poland, the latest poll shows a dip in support for the ruling party, but one can hardly accuse Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his supporters of being pro-Putin. Fiercely hostile to Russian expansionism, the Polish government has been at the forefront of NATO and EU support for Ukraine. 

In short, it looks rather like Éric Zemmour’s faltering campaign is more about Éric Zemmour than Vladimir Putin.

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.