by Peter Franklin
Monday, 4
April 2022
Idea
07:00

Can France’s deplorables secure a Le Pen victory?

The country's disenfranchised could swing the election in her favour
by Peter Franklin
French Rassemblement National (RN) presidential candidate Marine Le Pen. Credit: Getty

The final round of the French presidential election is now less than three weeks away. A re-match between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen is the most likely run-off scenario — and Macron is the runaway favourite to win.

But have we been underestimating Le Pen’s chances? The political scientist, Yascha Mounk has been talking to the “smartest, best informed people” he knows in France — and according to him they’re “freaking out”. 

Looking at the polls, the gap between Macron and Le Pen is much narrower this year than it was over the same months in 2017.  Five years ago Macron’s margin over Le Pen was more than twenty points, now it’s more like ten. And in the last few days, there’s been a further tightening: 

What makes Le Pen’s performance all the more surprising is the competition she’s faced from Éric Zemmour — her Right-wing rival for the populist vote. But as Benjamin Dodman of France 24 notes, Zemmour’s incendiary rhetoric has allowed Le Pen “to come across as more respectable and ‘presidential’”. 

Responding to this unexpected threat, Macron’s supporters have attacked Le Pen’s new image as a “sham”, warning voters that she “hasn’t changed”. 

But whether or not the Macronistes have genuine cause to be worried, it’s in their best interests not to freak out — at least not in public. Panic is usually a poor choice of mood music for an election campaign. It didn’t work for the British Conservative Party in 1997 when they literally portrayed Tony Blair as a monster; nor did the threat of a “punishment budget” help the Remain campaign in the 2016 referendum. 

Indeed, raising the stakes may have the effect of helping the other side by encouraging their supporters to vote. 

That’s especially relevant in the case of Le Pen. Detailed polling evidence from Ipsos shows that her 2017 support was concentrated in groups that are less likely to vote than their compatriots. For instance, she did comparatively well among the working class, the self-employed and the unemployed. She also did better among the under-35s than the over-60s (and her popularity among the young has since grown).

This helps explain why Le Pen’s actual result in 2017 was below her poll ratings — and also why her party under-performed in last year’s regional elections. The most alienated voters are those with the least motive to turnout for elections that won’t change the status quo. And that was certainly the case five years ago, when the result was a foregone conclusion. 

If it’s much closer this time — and the Macron campaign reinforces that impression — then habitual non-voters may be motivated to make a difference. 

There’s one further point to note from the 2017 Ipsos polling — and that’s the difference that financial insecurity makes. Among the individuals who described their finances as “very difficult”, Le Pen won by a massive 38 points. With a cost-of-living crisis raging across Europe, Macron has little room for error. 

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AC Harper
AC Harper
1 month ago

I don’t know if a Le Pen win would be better than a Macron win for France.
But there are recent cases where the disaffected have swung the election/referendum in ways that were not expected by the establishment mainstream. The disaffected have been neglected and ignored for years – it surely is democracy that their voices become numerous enough to be counted.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 month ago
Reply to  AC Harper

All the journalists reporting on the Hungarian election were suggesting Orban was in trouble and might well be defeated. In the event he trounced the opposition. The prediction of journalists and pollsters seem far to often to be tinged with what they hope might be the case rather than representing an accurate assessment. I have no idea if Le Pen will get in but don’t give much regard to journalistic predictions.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

The overwhelming majority of journalists have opinions little different from government-emplioyed social workers.

Frederick B
Frederick B
1 month ago

Fortunate France, to have even the opportunity to vote for a credible nationalist candidate.

Bruno Lucy
Bruno Lucy
1 month ago
Reply to  Frederick B

What did you smoke ?
It’s like labelling Farrage as a credible option as a Prime Minister in the UK !!

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
1 month ago

Should not “deplorables” in the headline be in inverted commas, or in fact not be used at all?

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
1 month ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

Also the word ‘deplorables’ in the title unnecessarily pejorative.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 month ago

The world of woke could do with a shock: If only we had a Le Pen/Zemmour

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
1 month ago

Johnson should ditched, Hannan or Frost taken from the HoL to be PM, and Cummings reinstated as ‘Witch Finder General’ to slash & burn his way through the Civil Service, NGO’s, Universities and last but not least NHS.
Finally the Royal Navy should start doing what it paid for; Defending the Channel from invaders.

Last edited 1 month ago by ARNAUD ALMARIC
Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 month ago

I don’t believe anyone will seriously challenge Macron at the end of the day.
I reckon the French will do the normal thing of getting their rebellious impulses out of the their systems in the first round, where Le Pen and Macron will leave the others in the dust.
Then Macron will win by a country mile in the second round – I simply don’t believe the French would take a risk on Le Pen at this point.

Last edited 1 month ago by Katharine Eyre
Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
1 month ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

What have they got to lose?

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 month ago
Reply to  Jerry Carroll

Continuity at a time of acute crisis. I am no Le Pen fan and I think Macron is a vile and greasy smarm factory…but when there’s a huge security risk on Europe’s doorstep and possibly impending war, it is not the time for experimenting. It pains me too much to say I am hoping for a Macron win, so I will say I am hoping for a result which best promises stability.

Last edited 1 month ago by Katharine Eyre
JP Martin
JP Martin
1 month ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

When the situation is not good, continuity is not good. A stable descent into hell does not appeal to me. I prefer to take my chances with the “extreme right”. There is a huge security risk on Europe’s doorstep but there is already a huge security problem in France. I do not forget Boutcha and Marioupol but I remember the Bataclan and Samuel Paty (and so many more). I remember the areas that were safe ten years ago where I can no longer enter. Macron had five years and here we are. His attempts at diplomacy with Putin do not seem to have made a difference either. So he fails at home and abroad. Just this week a video is published of a handicapped Jewish man in Bobigny being killed by a passing tram while running from a lynching. The story was suppressed and only comes to light because of “extreme right” politicians. If it had been a mob of skinheads, it would have been front page news. This is France in 2022. We saw this before: Ilan Halimi, Sébastien Selem, Mireille Knoll, Sarah Halimi. The “extreme right” label is now meaningless. If I want to live in a country where women can walk in the street without being sexually harassed and religious minorities are not beaten by feral mobs, I am now “extreme right”?

Michael K
Michael K
1 month ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Macron has done a terrible job with this war. The first one to deliver weapons to Ukraine and claim that the conflict would take a long time. There is no better way to maximize civilian casualties. As JP Martin says, a bad situation should not receive continuity.

Bruno Lucy
Bruno Lucy
1 month ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

And this rebellious impulse is exactly what made Brexit happen while people chose to stay in bed that Sunday in 2016.
Le Pen election is very much a possibility…….a scary one.

Adrian Maxwell
Adrian Maxwell
1 month ago

The title is misleading. Clinton’s coining of the word ‘deplorable’ was not describing the disenfranchised. She intended an insult to those supporting Trump. Le Pen appeals to those in France who feel Macron and his Parisian based clique ignore them. Quite different things and lazy subbing by Unherd.

Tom Watson
Tom Watson
1 month ago
Reply to  Adrian Maxwell

I’m not seeing the difference – no doubt many American Trump-supporting ‘deplorables’ considered themselves disenfranchised and ignored by Clinton and her sort for quite a while before they were openly being insulted by her.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
1 month ago
Reply to  Adrian Maxwell

Could it be a Trump/Clinton re-run ??