Why Macron could be in trouble if Le Pen gets over 40 per cent

Pro-European candidate Emmanuel Macron is likely to defeat the far-right - but the margin will be crucial

May 04, 2017 10:58

Nerves will jangle this weekend, and not just in France, but polls suggest that there is scant chance of Marine Le Pen becoming the first far-right leader of a major industrial nation since 1945.

The Front National leader has fought the more energetic and eye-catching campaign in the second round of the French elections. She also made a couple of stupid mistakes which exposed the hollowness of her claims to have turned her father’s antisemitic, xenophobic protest movement into a party of government.

The man she named to replace her as president of the FN, Jean-Francois Jalkh, was outed as a Holocaust-doubter and Vichy-fancier and resigned after a couple of days. One of her final set-piece speeches, praising the glories of France, had a section plagiarised word for word from a speech given last month by the defeated centre-right candidate, Francois Fillon.

Many French hard left voters say they will abstain on Sunday on the grounds that there is no political or moral difference between Ms Le Pen and the untried, pro-market, pro-European favourite Emmanuel Macron. As a result, the margin of Mr Macron’s victory may be narrower than many people in France had hoped for — hobbling his chances of winning a clear mandate in the national assembly elections next month.

Opinion polls suggest that Mr Macron, 39, will win on Sunday with 59-60 per cent of the vote — the widest margin in any French presidential election since Ms Le Pen’s father scored 18 per cent in the second round against Jacques Chirac in 2002.

The polls have shifted slightly in Ms Le Pen’s direction during the two weeks of the second-round campaign but the small-print of the surveys suggests that she has made few actual converts. The increase in her projected score from 37-40 per cent to 39-41 per cent is based almost entirely on a larger than expected wave of “ni-ni” — neither-nor — feeling on the left of the French Left.

The opinion polls predict a turn-out of 72 to 75 per cent. Participation would have to fall below 60 per cent to give Ms Le Pen hope of victory.

The small shift in the polls has nonetheless played on the nerves of the French “establishment”, which fears the kind of surprise which awaited the Remain camp in the Brexit referendum in the UK and Hillary Clinton’s supporters in the US presidential election. A Le Pen victory would arguably be a more destructive shock to the European and international status quo than either Brexit or the election of Donald Trump.

But French pollsters and pundits point to several reasons why Marine Le Pen – and her supporters on the right of the British press – will be disappointed on Sunday. The French opinion polls were uncannily accurate in the first round on 23 April. They have remained broadly stable in predicting a Macron victory by around 20 points – a much wider gap than the Remain or Clinton camps ever enjoyed last year.

In terms of endorsements, including reluctant ones, Mr Macron’s camp extends from big business to most trades unions, from the Catholic newspaper La Croix, to the anarchist-anti-religious Charlie Hebdo and to all recent presidents and prime ministers of left and right.

The refusal of the French far left Leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon (fourth with 19.6 per cent in the fourth round) to join this chorus has infuriated many people on the centre-left and centre-right. Although Mr Mélenchon instructed his supporters not to vote for Mme Le Pen, around 40 per cent of hard-left voters are expected to stay at home or cast blank or spoiled ballots.

Even if this figure rose substantially, it is difficult to see how Ms Le Pen could attract enough votes to become the first female French head of state since the 16th century.

A relatively modest Macron victory would, however, have serious consequences. To have any chance of pushing through his market-friendly reforms, he needs to command a majority, or lead a coherent coalition, after the parliamentary elections in June. A high Front National score – anything substantially over 40 per cent - would undermine his legitimacy and could turn the parliamentary contest into a four or five-way impasse between Mr Macron’s new centre, the far right, the hard left and the old governing parties of centre right and centre left.

May 04, 2017 10:58

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive