Latest opinion polls in France suggest that Marine Le Pen is increasing her first round lead, and is starting to close the gap between herself and whatever challenger she will face in the second round of the French election.
This is happening at the same time as the centrist challenger – Emmanuel Macron – is showing the first signs of losing support.
The poll conducted by Elabe conducted for TV broadcaster BFM TV puts the ratings of the various contenders for the first round as follows, extending her lead by 1.5% if the centrist candidate Francois Bayrou remained in the race, and by 2% if he pulled out.
Here are the results with Bayrou electing to stay in the race
Marine Le Pen 27%
Francois Fillon 20%
Emmanuel Macron 17%
Benoit Hamon 12%
Jean-Luc Melenchon 12%
Francois Bayrou 6%
With Bayrou pulling out the results are as follows
Marine Le Pen 28%
Francois Fillon 21%
Emmanuel Macron 18.5%
Benoit Hamon 13%
Jean-Luc Melenchon 13%
Bayrou has now – as widely predicted – pulled out and thrown his weight behind Macron. However, as the Elabe poll shows, it is far from certain that Macron will benefit significantly from his support. If anything it is likely to increase the growing (and correct) impression that he is the establishment’s candidate, and that the stops are being pulled out to help him.
As it happens Macron has fallen back significantly – by 5% over the course of the previous week. Partly this is due to the revival of support for Francois Fillon, who seems finally to be putting the scandal of the payments he arranged for his family behind him, but it may also in part be the result of the French electorate seeing through the absurdity of Macron’s claim to be the “anti-establishment” candidate.
In passing, comments on the thread to my previous piece about Macron questioned whether he really did attend the elite École nationale d’administration (“ENA”) in Strasbourg, the traditional training school of the French political elite and the alma mater of former French Presidents Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, Jacques Chirac and François Hollande, and of countless other French politicians.
The answer is that he definitely did. The cause for the confusion is that before going to ENA Macron applied to a different Grande École – the equally prestigious and much older École normale supérieure in Paris, which however mainly trains academics rather than civil servants or politicians – but failed the entrance exam.
Perhaps even more interesting than Le Pen’s rise in the polls is that in a possible second round run-off against Macron the Elabe poll puts the gap between Macron and Le Pen closing to 59% to 41%, by some distance the tightest margin in the election so far, and putting Le Pen well above the mid-30s% ceiling which she has been hitting up to now.
There are many weeks of this campaign to go. However the latest opinion poll tends to confirm my previous claim: if the priority is to stop Marine Le Pen then Emmanuel Macron looks to be just about the worst candidate to put up against her. Just as every opinion poll during the US election showed that Bernie Sanders had a far better chance of beating Donald Trump in the election than did Hillary Clinton, so Fillon with a solid base amongst French Catholic voters still looks an easier second round winner against Le Pen than Macron. However because of Fillon’s heretical views about Russia and his friendship with Russian President Putin the French elite doesn’t want him, just as the Democratic Party’s elite in the US didn’t want Berne Sanders, insisting on Hillary Clinton instead.
I would add that in theory if the two left wing candidates – Hamon (the official Socialist candidate, who comes from the party’s left wing) and Jean-Luc Mélenchon – were to join forces, then whichever one of them were to stand as the candidate of the united left would on the strength of the polling stand a good chance of being the one to face off against Le Pen in the second round, and of being eventually elected President of France in the second round. However it seems that all efforts to get either Hamon or Mélenchon to stand down and support the other have come to nothing, making it all but certain that the two will divide the left between them and cancel each other out.
Len Pen has a mountain to climb and the electoral system and the deep seated political loyalties that mark French society still make it very unlikely she can win. However the odds are shortening.