The country's disenfranchised could swing the election in her favour
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”.
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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:
France, Ifop poll:
Presidential run-off election
Macron (EC-RE): 53% (-5)
Le Pen (RN-ID): 47% (+5)
+/- vs. 17-18 March 2022
— Europe Elects (@EuropeElects) April 2, 2022
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.