By Antoine Clement
Less than one month away from the first round of the French presidential election, a battle between far-right Marine Le Pen and independent centrist Emmanuel Macron seems inevitable, but only if we believe the polls.
Polls across the board have Marine Le Pen sitting with a comfortable 25 per cent which she has maintained since the beginning of the year, while Emmanuel Macron now varies between 24 per cent and 26 per cent. Meanwhile former front runner right-wing candidate François Fillon has slipped to around 18 per cent following a formal judicial investigation into claims that he paid his wife and children for alleged “fake jobs”.
The likelihood of a Macron-Le Pen head to head has seemed increasingly likely since the debate last month between the five main candidates and the last debate on earlier this month with all the candidates.
During the debates, which drew record views across the country, many seasoned observers of French politics believed first time candidate Macron succeeded in holding his own against socialist Benoît Hamon and conservative François Fillon. Presumed to securely pass the first round, Marine Le Pen did not have to make much effort during the debate.
The French have always been known for their rebellious mentality, and this is a virtue that they have most certainly not lost. They do not like being told that everything is predetermined, and many firmly believe that this election is anyone’s game.
The surprise of the debates, however, was hard-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon who benefited most from his efforts. With his articulation and experience helping him stand out, he has seen a surge from 11 – 14 per cent in the polls. The “small” candidates like Jean Lasalle, anticapitalist candidates like Philippe Poutou and Nathalie Arthaud, or sovereigntists like Dupont-Aignant, Asselineua, Cheminade all attempted to steal the last show.
Overall, polls for first debate had Macron as the most convincing candidate for 29 per cent of respondents, closely followed by hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon with 20 per cent, as well as Marine Le Pen and François Fillon at 19 per cent each. For the second debate, polls vary but overall reveal that people found Mélenchon, Macron and Fillon to be the most eloquent.
However, as has often been the case throughout France’s history, the accumulation of hypotheses and reliance on quasi-certainties, are highly deceptive. This was no clearer than in April 2002, when Jean-Marie Le Pen shocked the nation by making it into the second round of the presidential election to face off Jacques Chirac.
The French have always been known for their rebellious mentality, and this is a virtue that they have most certainly not lost. They do not like being told that everything is predetermined, and many firmly believe that this election is anyone’s game. Moreover, this is not just the case in France: As evidenced in the UK and USA last year, the science of polling is far from perfect.
Aside from the polling, we must take into consideration two key things: There exists a large silent majority, especially among National Front voters, and Macron’s independent and centrist position in politics gives him a volatile electoral base. Indeed, Macron only founded his current party ‘En Marche!’ this time last year.
Le Pen without doubt has the strongest base, with 79 per cent of her voters safe in their choice. This is followed by Fillon at 72 per cent and Mélenchon with 59%. It is Macron and Hamon, respectively 49 per cent and 50 per cent, who have the most impressionable voters.
This uncertainty can be compromising for Macron. The slightest wrong move on his part can play either in favour of Benoit Hamon or François Fillon, who has proved to have a solid electoral base despite an indictment.
Less than a month from the first round, France’s future political landscape has rarely looked so unclear: A victory for Macron is not assured, a win for Fillon is still possible and the possibility of a President Le Pen cannot be eluded.