by John Lichfield
Monday, 11
April 2022
Analysis
09:00

Don’t write off Marine Le Pen

Emmanuel Macron faces a much tighter contest this year
by John Lichfield
Credit: Getty

Almost against expectations, President Emmanuel Macron topped the poll by more than four points in the first round of the French presidential elections yesterday.

Macron may not be everyone’s hero. And he is not yet home free. The second round of the election, a re-match of 2017, will be a much closer-run thing. Opinion polls yesterday gave Macron a lead over the far-Right leader Marine Le Pen varying from 54-46% to 51-49%.

All the same, this was an excellent result for Macron. Over the last month Le Pen has surged by 7 points in the opinion polls and seemed capable of building even greater momentum by snatching first position yesterday. Despite outpolling her polls with 23.41%, she ended further behind Macron than she did in the first round in 2017.

In truth Macron is detested by many people in France, especially on parts of the Left. He should prevail on 24 April but Le Pen’s chances cannot be written off (as they could in 2017 even before her calamitous TV debate performance).

Macron lost to Le Pen yesterday in every category of age except the over-65’s, who voted in enormous numbers and disproportionately (41%) for the President. His high overall score — 27.6% — was swollen by last-minute Le Pen-fearing transfers from the centre-Right and the centre-Left.

As a result, the reservoir of potential extra votes for Macron in Round Two is depleted. The centre-Right candidate Valérie Pécresse — once tipped as Macron’s greatest danger — was reduced to a woeful 4.79%.

There was also a last-minute scramble by Left-wing voters to try to push the hard-Left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon into the run-off instead of Le Pen. They almost succeeded. Mélenchon, anti-Nato, anti-EU, anti-market, fell just 1.5 points short of second place.

His 21.95% squeezed the other Left and green candidates to very low scores. Anne Hidalgo, candidate for the Socialists who were in power until 5 years ago, got 1.74% and only 600,000 votes.

Le Pen still has another 9 points of far-Right support to harvest in round two — the 7% who stuck with her rival Éric Zemmour and the 2% who voted for the perpetual also-ran Nicolas Dupont-Aignan. 

She will try to make the second round a referendum against Macron and a referendum against the “elites” and the pro-Brussels, Paris establishment. Just over 50% of the first round vote went yesterday to tear-it-all-down candidates of Right and Left.

Can she persuade enough radical Leftists to abstain or vote with the nationalist Right for her to win on 24 April?

Macron will try to make the second round a referendum against Le Pen: against her years of Vladimir Putin fellow-travelling; and against her proposals for “Frexit”-by-stealth through breaking EU free trade and free movement laws.

At first glance, yesterday’s voting pattern is unfavourable to him. Only 38.7% of voters supported candidates who were clearly pro-status quo.

There is, however, another striking pattern in the results, which should be more helpful to Macron. The French electorate, as I predicted in this space a few weeks ago, has now divided, possibly permanently, into three camps not two.

If you tot up the scores, 32% voted yesterday for something close to Macronist, pro-European centrism; 31.5% for the far-Right and 32.3% for a scattered Left. 

Which way will the Left tip on 24 April? It will deeply pain many French Left-wingers to do so (and many will refuse) but I expect that they will vote sufficiently anti-Le Pen to give Macron a second term. 

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Andrew D
Andrew D
5 months ago

‘Macron lost to Le Pen yesterday in every category of age except the over-65’s’. Remember 2016, when many of those outraged by Brexit demanded that the over 65s should be disenfranchised? If they’d had their way in France in 2022, Mme Le Pen would be heading for the Elysee. You have to laugh really.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
5 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Yes, this was something thjat I noticed too. It’s interesting, is it that older French are more inclined to stick with the status quo than older Britons? Or is it that they are more globalist? I’m inclined to think the former. Of course they could all think that Macron has done a brilliant job, you can never tell.

Andrew D
Andrew D
5 months ago

Linda, Gavin Mortimer in today’s Spectator has what looks (to me) like a plausible explanation:
‘Those whose working lives are over, those on – in general – comfortable pensions with no mortgage are content with the incumbent. This is also the demographic who most approved of Macron’s draconian Covid measures, the passport, the masks, the shutting down of society. This is the generation of ‘Soixante-huitards’, Baby Boomers to Brits. Half a century ago they were radicals and revolutionaries but in their dotage they are rather smitten with their ‘president of the rich’.’

Last edited 5 months ago by Andrew D
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
5 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Maybe they could disenfranchise them before the second ballot

AC Harper
AC Harper
5 months ago

I notice the label ‘far-Right’ gets an outing again but only a ‘scattered Left’.
The numbers as quoted suggest a more balanced Right/Centre/Left split.

Stephen Walshe
Stephen Walshe
5 months ago

She hasn’t a prayer sadly. She needs a 16% swing from 2017 to win, and nothing in the first round results suggested that is possible. The Right was in power for three quarters of the time from 1958 to 2012, but now will be in opposition for at least 15 years. Candidates to Macron’s right won just 37% of the vote yesterday, compared to 47% for Sarkozy, Le Pen and NDA in 2012. Due to demographic change, conservative minded voters sense they are losing their country and are flailing around, but based on these results the Right will struggle to win a national election in France ever again, In fact Le Pen only scraped into the second round by squeezing Zemmour and Pecresse to almost nothing. She’ll do well to get to 40% on the next day out.

Bennie History
Bennie History
5 months ago

I believe the margins will be much closer this year than in 2017.

However, Marine Le Pen has been doomed by a lot of disinformation by calling her “Far Right-Wing”. It seems to me that every candidate who supports any semblance of nationalism nowadays gets this label thrown at them to discredit their beliefs.

This branding makes it so Le Pen will never be able to win a second round as it scares center-right voters who might be able to make a majority over Macron into voting for him instead. Just look at Pecresse losing to Macron only to endorse him because she is more of Le Pen.

In future elections the right wing in France needs to focus on the media before political issues. Ask them to truly define what fine line separates a traditional right wing candidate to the fear mongering term of far-right is the only way forward.

james curtis
james curtis
5 months ago

This has been organised so well many times, all the ‘others’ are carefully eliminated by false voting, leaving the nominated successor and the unacceptable Le Pen alone to stand, deliberately the French state organises this to get what they want. Since De-Gaul’s formation of Elf Oil, the French leadership has been totally corrupt, see https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2003/07/tota-j11.html
The majority of French Presidents since WW2 have been involved in the oil. This has been he source of all the cash they used to buy Colne and all the other European Politicians to build the ‘Common Market’, remember the black suitcases that featured at every meeting all those years ago.
Macron has concentrated on bating Britain and Russia, along with the USA, they now have their reward which Ukraine is paying for.