Marine Le Pen, Éric Zemmour and Valérie Pécresse are all slumping
While war rages in Ukraine, the French have got a president to elect.
The first round of the election is on the 10th April, with the top two candidates going forward to the second round two weeks later. Therefore time is running out for the candidate of the mainstream Right, Valérie Pécresse. Her campaign isn’t just stalling, it is sinking.
France, Kantar poll:
Macron (LREM-RE): 25%
Le Pen (RN-ID): 16.5%
Zemmour (REC-NI): 16.5%
Mélenchon (LFI-LEFT): 12%
Pécresse (LR-EPP): 12%
— Europe Elects (@EuropeElects) February 24, 2022
A few weeks ago, she was still challenging Marine Le Pen and Éric Zemmour for second place and thus a place in the run-off against the incumbent, Emmanuel Macron. However, this week’s polls from Elabe and Harris both put Pécresse in fourth place, while the latest polls — from Kantar and Cluster 17 have her running equal to or behind Jean-Luc Mélenchon (the previously fifth-placed candidate of the populist Left).
This couldn’t be better news for Macron. Of all the other candidates, Pécresse had the best chance of beating him. But she won’t get the chance if she’s nowhere near to making it through to the run-off.
This is an unusual state of affairs. There’s been a viable conservative candidate in every presidential election of the Fifth Republic. In 2017, François Fillon was the first not to reach the final round. But even then, and despite the ‘Penelopegate’ scandal, he won 20% of the first round vote. Right now, Pécresse is polling at between 10 and 15%.
She is not an especially incompetent or unlikeable candidate. Nor do unhelpful stories like this one — about the allegation that “dead people and a dog” were able to vote in her party’s primary — explain her failure to make headway.
Rather, the French conservatives find themselves struggling to carve out a political space between the Right-leaning liberalism of Macron and the competing populisms of Le Pen and Zemmour.
And yet there’s a possible twist to the tale. To get into the first round, candidates need to get the signatures of at least 500 elected officials by the 4th March. Both Le Pen and Zemmour are struggling to clear this hurdle. According to the latest tally, Le Pen has 414 signatures and Zemmour 415. Time is running out to find the rest.
If Zemmour is disqualified, then Le Pen will likely get most of his supporters — thus guaranteeing her a place in the second round. The same probably applies to the reverse scenario. If, however, both of these populists are disqualified, then the race will be thrown into confusion.
Will Pécresse consolidate the French Right, thus making the run-off after all? Or will the supporters of Le Pen and Zemmour feel so disenfranchised that they try to use their votes in the most disruptive way they can? Possibilities for a spoiler candidate include Mélenchon or even Jean Lassalle (a Eurosceptic rebel from the Pyrenees).
It’s also worth pointing out that this week’s polls were taken before Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Le Pen, Zemmour and Mélenchon have all faced accusations of being too sympathetic to the Russian position. Whether that hurts them more than it has already, we’re about to find out.