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March 16, 2017 7:32 PM   Subscribe

Who will win the French presidential election? According to current polls, center-left outsider Emmanuel Macron is likely to become the next French President, winning 60-65% of the votes against far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, but many things could happen between now and April 23. French presidential elections used to be a simple thing, decided by a run-off between the candidates of the two major (socialist vs conservative) parties. The system was upset in 2002 when Le Pen's father trounced the socialist candidate in the first round, only to be crushed in the second round by Chirac. The situation was back to normal in 2007 and 2012 (with Sarkozy embracing far-right rhetorics), but in 2017 the two candidates most likely to win are outsiders unaffiliated to mainstream parties. A round-up of the main candidates below the fold.

François Fillon, Les Républicains (LR), right-wing. Fillon won the primary in November 2016, using a very right-wing ("Thatcherian") platform to beat the centrist Juppé and the scandal-ridden Sarkozy. He was then the main favourite and a proof that "that traditional professional politics still had legs to it". On January 25, Fillon's campaign imploded after the venerable Canard Enchaîné revealed that he had used MP funds to pay his wife Penelope for doing nothing. For good measure, he was bit in the ass by his old tweets about "transparency" , "honesty" and where he disparaged those bad people "who don't work and still get public money". The "PenelopeGate" or "January Surprise" dismayed many LR voters and derailed the conservative campaign, as told in this Twitter recap. A Plan B never materialized and Fillon refused to step down, perhaps because "fraud is business as usual in French politics". Early March, Fillon held a defiant rally where he offered only a "modicum of contrition". On March 14, Fillon was formally placed under formal investigation. His campaign trundles on, and, taking a leaf out of Trump's How to be an asshole politician manual, Fillion keeps attacking the media and the judiciary, and floats fake news, with the support of increasingly radicalized supporters. His polling numbers fell dramatically after January, but are now stabilized at 18-20%.

Emmanuel Macron, center-left, independent (though briefly a member of the Socialist Party), created his own party, En Marche !, in April 2016. Macron, a former banker, was Minister of Economy from 2014 to 2016, and pushed business-friendly reforms known as the Macron Law . Macron launched his bid for French presidency in November when the idea of an independent candidate with a chance to win was unheard of. Three months later, and thanks to Fillon's implosion, he had a real shot at the French Presidency: unabashedly pro-EU, pro-business, and socially liberal, Macron is still an unknown quantity (and hated by far-left and far-rights activists, as well as targeted by a certain foreign power) but he's now rallying some left, center-left and center-right politicians. On March 9, Macron lead the French presidential election poll for the first time, and he is currently polling at 24-26%, just a tad below Le Pen. Bonus: French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron tells US climate scientists: 'Please come to France' (I have a message for you guys).

Marine Le Pen, Front National (FN), far-right. While the Front National founded by her father Jean-Marie has been poisoning French politics since the 1970s, Le Pen Sr's racist and antisemitic outbursts always prevented the FN from going mainstream. Marine Le Pen inherited the party from her father in 2011, and started to "sanitize" the FN by toning down the xenophobia and kicking out its most visible racists (including her dad). While those efforts have indeed made the FN palatable to a larger voter base, they also caused a deep rift in the Le Pen family, and in the party itself, where another Le Pen is gaining power (and is being courted by Steve Bannon). The FN's main strategist is Florian Philippot, a gay man (in a party known for its "traditional" values including homophobia) and self-proclaimed admirer of De Gaulle. Like other right wing populist leaders, Le Pen has been "riding a global mood" mixing xenophobia (mostly directed at Islam), anti-immigration, national sovereignty, declinism, as well as anti-EU and anti-"globalist" sentiments. Like some other populist leaders, she's a fan of Vladimir Putin and the FN has been borrowing Russian money. She's currently accused of having misspent EU funds to pay her companion (fellow FN leader Louis Aliot) and other people. In February, European Parliament Members voted to lift Marine Le Pen's immunity for tweeting the Isis video of the beheading of James Foley, though this is not likely to stop her presidential bid: Le Pen currently polls at 26-27% in the first round.

Benoît Hamon, Parti Socialiste (PS), left/center-left, won the PS/Green primary in January 2017. Just like Fillion won the LR primary on a very right-wing platform, Hamon won on a very left-wing one (universal basic income, a reduction of the 35-hour working week) targeting left-wing voters disillusioned by President François Hollande's policies. However, Hamon is struggling in the polls (13-14%), partly due to the candidacy of :

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, La France Insoumise, far-left. A former PS member, Mélenchon positions himself as a hard-left candidate (replacing the moribund French Communist Party). Mélenchon, a charismatic left-wing populist, was once called by The Guardian "the poetry-loving pitbull of anticapitalism", and prefers the internet (and Princess Leia's technology) to traditional media. Still, he currently polls at 11-12%, so he has little chance to get to the second round.
posted by elgilito (32 comments total) 58 users marked this as a favorite
I just want to tell you all bonne chance. We're all counting on you.
posted by schmod at 7:44 PM on March 16 [44 favorites]

There's going to be so much Russian/Wikileaks fuckery between now and then. Hopefully by now people will know it for what it is, but it's still terrifying - a Russian backed Nazi getting in is probably the end of the EU and any kind of meaningful opposition to Russian expansion.
posted by Artw at 8:15 PM on March 16

Jokes aside, this post is a brilliant explainer on the French presidential election. Thanks for all the great information to pick through, elgilito.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:04 PM on March 16 [19 favorites]

Mais pourquoi tous les -on ? On n'avait pas d'autres syllabes ?
posted by zompist at 9:23 PM on March 16 [4 favorites]

posted by potrzebie at 9:33 PM on March 16 [6 favorites]

His polling numbers fell dramatically after January, but are now stabilized at 18-20%.

When's the next poll? He was just placed under formal investigation, right?
posted by My Dad at 9:36 PM on March 16

Any chance that Mélanchon could drop out, solidifying the left vote?
posted by Chrysostom at 9:48 PM on March 16

Well, you mean Mélenchon apparently.

And no, there's no way for the Hard Left (tm) to drop-out and stand with Macron (hence "insoumise" -- never subjugated). They see him as a Wall Street shill. His cabinet role is part of the reason why Hollande's socialist party loses so hard even among lefties.
posted by runcifex at 10:40 PM on March 16

Chrysostom meant stand with Hamon, I believe, which is a reasonable question lots of people ask. If you're going to ding someone for spelling you should make sure you've read what they say carefully. Actually, unless you're judging a spelling bee you shouldn't be a spelling drone.
posted by Kattullus at 11:34 PM on March 16 [14 favorites]

To add to a fantastic post: the decision of François Bayrou not to run, and instead to seek an alliance between his centrist MoDem (a weird kind of "establishment reformist" movement) and Macron's EM, was timed in a way that capitalised on the growing stories of Fillon's use of public money, and solidified Macron's position as the sole viable alternative to Le Pen.

Absent unanticipated shenanigans, Macron probably wins. The big question is whether this simply postpones the reckoning with FN to 2022, give that Macron doesn't necessarily represent a massive change from the policies that drove Hollande's popularity into the shitter, or whether the establishment right re-establishes itself and Le Pen's dodginess becomes a sufficient liability to push her off the stage and create a power vacuum in what has been a family fiefdom.
posted by holgate at 11:46 PM on March 16 [2 favorites]

And the presence of FN as a solid bloc means "vote with your heart in the first round, and with your head in the second" goes somewhat out of the window, though arguably that defenestration happened back when Papa Le Pen beat Jospin in 2002.
posted by holgate at 11:48 PM on March 16

Macron's meteoric rise sure invites hypotheses of intrigue. (More on "les Graques" and "les énarques".)
posted by progosk at 12:19 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]

Well, presently everyone seems to have already reckoned that Hamon and the Socialist Party are unelectable. In fact the Socialist Party has relied on alliance support in presidential elections but it's hard to imagine the coalition can still hold. Like the British Labour (and perhaps Dutch PvdA) they're in the phase of fracture and retreat, and just as holgate mentioned, the moderate left and centrists are forming a coalition with Macron. Perhaps I didn't realize Chrysostom meant a PS-branded coalition because I frankly couldn't have imagined one.

As for the spelling, if I caused any offence the shame is on me and I'm sorry, but I meant none.
posted by runcifex at 12:32 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]

Oh, I agree that a coalition of the left led by a Socialist Party candidate was never going to happen this election. However, Hamon is a properly left-wing politician and if he somehow managed to get Mélenchon to back him, he might have a genuine chance. Not a big chance, but probably the best chance of an actual socialist Socialist in a generation. As it is Macron looks likely to march straight into office, barring something unforeseen.

I apologize, runcifex, for my intemperate reaction earlier, it was way out of proportion.
posted by Kattullus at 1:01 AM on March 17 [4 favorites]

According to current polls, center-left outsider Emmanuel Macron is likely to become the next French President

Well great, that means he's going to lose.
posted by daybeforetheday at 1:09 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]

I don't think current polling indicates that Macron and Le Pen are the two most likely victors. While polling for the second round shows Le Pen performing better against Fillon than against Macron, it seems (on current polling) like somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of French voters are operating on the "Votez escroc, pas facho!" ("Vote for the crook, not the fascist!") principle that helped Chirac to victory in 2002, and would hold their noses and vote for Fillon in the second round in order to keep Le Pen out. Added to his core support, that actually gives him a relatively comfortable margin of victory (although terrifyingly slim against a fucking fascist) should he get to round 2.

Obviously, like all political analyses/predictions in this era, the above should be regarded with the scepticism it deserves...
posted by howfar at 1:34 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]

Scepticism is the key word. The main poll no one is talking about is that 53 percent of french people don't know who they're going to vote for.
So while the political analysts marvel at Macron's chances, they really have no idea which way it's going to go.
Le Pen still has a real shot at this.
The 2002 election was an accident provoked by the division of the left. Lots of people took that as a support for Le Pen (father), but in terms of votes he did worse during that election than his daughter 10 years later (4,804,713 in 2002 vs 6,421,426 in 2012).
If Le Pen (daughter) makes it to the second round it will be completely different than in 2002, especially is she's leading in the first round.
posted by SageLeVoid at 3:02 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]

Mélenchon is being properly slammed by big names on the left to get his rear end allied with Hamon. Talk around it generally centers on Mélenchon's ego being bigger than his brain (I've heard this more times than I can count now), where Hamon is respected as a down-to-earth politician. People get that the down-to-earth side may also be a weakness, but he's got a lot of support as is.

Otherwise it's a very tiresome time indeed. There's an eery, smiling silence from Le Pen voters, a sort of mix of panic and resign around a Macron vote (I've yet to hear anyone support him for his policies), and a Gallic shrug regarding Fillon. People like Hamon's and Mélenchon's ideas, but would really like for the left to drop the in-fighting to support programs a lot of people have wanted for years. Programs that were reasons Hollande was voted in, but that he then betrayed.

Of course the flip side is what role fear and populism will play in the vote. That one's harder to predict. France has had a different past few years than the States, in Paris we see gun-toting military security every day and have mandatory bag checks pretty much everywhere. After a while fear gets harder to justify and its privacy-impacting realities start to sink in.
posted by fraula at 3:29 AM on March 17 [10 favorites]

The main poll no one is talking about is that 53 percent of french people don't know who they're going to vote for.

Does that mean "Le Pen but I don't want to admit it" like it did in the U.S. with Trump?
posted by Etrigan at 3:52 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]

The "shy Trump voter" theory doesn't seem to fit the evidence.
posted by Kattullus at 4:20 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]

Le Pen still has a real shot at this.

Undoubtedly. I didn't mean to minimise her chances, which are real (although still, I think, reasonably categorisable as "low", but then that's what even the most balanced sober analyses of Trump and to a lesser extent Brexit said).

The main poll no one is talking about is that 53 percent of french people don't know who they're going to vote for.
Does that mean "Le Pen but I don't want to admit it" like it did in the U.S. with Trump?

Probably not. Apart from the fact that "shy x" interpretations of data don't seem to explain recent (or really very many ever) polling failures in other settings, the breakdown of the linked poll doesn't indicate that 53% of people have no idea who they'll vote for, more that there are a number of blocks that are vacillating between certain candidates, along with a very large block of under 25s with no idea. However, that should not be taken as a minimisation of the significance of the result. A lot of people on the right are still unsure, and could fall to Le Pen, particularly in the second round. It's also worth noting that the 53% figure appears to be drawn from likely voters (the poll itself is paywalled, so I'm not sure), which increases the worry of a highly volatile electorate.
posted by howfar at 4:38 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]

I just wanted to thank you for this incredibly well crafted post.
posted by corb at 5:32 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]

THANK YOU for this post. Things have been moving so fast and I'm bombarded with all the shit that the US government is doing without even trying to go seek it out, so that I have no remaining energy to keep up with the latest in the French elections.

One interesting thing is that France decided to eliminate internet voting in the legislative elections this year (coming up in June right after the presidentials), which they had successfully done in a previous cycle. A fair and defendable decision, given the meddling and hacking by Russia in other countries' elections. However, it has the effect of severely limiting French citizens' living abroad ability to vote, because now you have to physically appear at a bureau de vote on the specific day or you have to assign a proxy to vote for you in person according to your wishes (a task taken very seriously in France), or vote by mail. For the presidential, you can only vote in person or by proxy. In New York that's not so much of a problem, (ugh, I have to go all the way to the other side of Brooklyn) but for people who live states away from the nearest French consulate, it's a very big deal.
posted by Liesl at 6:33 AM on March 17 [7 favorites]

The current polls rank Le Pen below the more likely mainstream candidates but yes, I agree the possibility is still too large to be ruled out. Back then somehow people saw predictions like Clinton 0.7 vs. Trump 0.3 to be ruling out Trump. This is not how probabilistic polls or predictions are supposed to be read. 0.3 is already big enough odds for the contest to be close.

And chirping in to Kattulus to say none is taken.
posted by runcifex at 7:23 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]

I watched our election night nightmare unfold with several French women visiting the US, and we talked about what it would mean for France's next election and whether it would embolden Le Pen's supporters. Thank you for this post.
posted by desuetude at 7:26 AM on March 17

I was asking about the possibility of a Hamon and Mélenchon combo, yes. Thanks for shedding some light on that.

Apologies for the misspelling, and no offense taken anywhere.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:10 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]

Thank you for the well written post !

I don't think le pen can win, but I think it'll be closer than you'd expect - especially against Macron, as it will fall along the The Nation vs The World lines rather than Left/Right

France also might be in a weird situation where the top 2 candidates end up with a very limited number of seats in Parliament , as legislative elections have their own dynamic....

It's certainly a bizarre and cahotic campaign by both traditional parties...
posted by motdiem2 at 3:22 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]

I fear Marine Le Pen may get just enough votes to prevail. To what degree that's based on objective analysis, versus my penchant for pessimism (fueled in this case by the myriad pro-Marine Le Pen sentiment I see in the Yahoo France comments sections, and the fact that much of the world seems to be veering "à droite de la droite" as they say in my native France), I don't know. What I do know is that presenting a more "sanitized" (read: less inflammatory) version of her father's rhetoric appears to be a highly effective strategy.
posted by DavidfromBA at 5:46 PM on March 29

This poll from Ifop [pdf] published April 3 has fairly detailed info how certain voters are about who they're going to vote for, how many plan to abstain (the French term for not voting) and where voters for Le Pen and Macron are coming from on the second round.

Bottom line: The race is tightening up with more voters making up their minds who they're going to vote for.
Respondents certain of who they were going to vote for in the first round:
Le Pen 83%, Fillon 75%, Mélenchon 66%, Macron 64%, Hamon 61%.
The remaining voters who said they were probably going to for vote one of these candidates indicated they might change their minds. That's down quite a bit from a few weeks ago.
Who supporters of candidates other than the front runners are voting for in the second round:
Mélenchon: Macron 53%, Le Pen 10%, abstain 37%
Hamon: Macron 65%, Le Pen 4%, abstain 31%
Fillon: Macron 36%, Le Pen 34%, abstain 30%
I don't see how Le Pen gets a win out of this. Yes, the National Front has picked up support from left-wing voters, but most of them seem to have already left and are voting FN in the first round. The remaining Hamon and Mélenchon voters are planning on either holding their noses and voting for Macron on the second round or staying home. Almost all additional votes for Le Pen on the second round are coming from Fillon voters. The polls are already taking this into account.

The French Socialist Party is falling apart, and the National Front is picking up unprecedented support, but it doesn't look like Le Pen is going to be able to pull a win out of this. In the long run, it's uncertain what will happen. We could speculate almost endlessly. Macron is going to have to transform his movement into real political party. Are they going to be able to do that and win parliamentary and local elections? Is Macron going to be able to govern without a political party behind him? What's going happen to what's left of the Socialist Party? Has the National Front reached it's high water mark, or are they going to keep going? If they do, where are they going to get addition voters from?
posted by nangar at 10:53 PM on April 3 [3 favorites]

addition voters = additional voters

There's an edit window, and I still miss stuff like this.
posted by nangar at 11:07 PM on April 3

Interestingly, looks like Mélenchon is making a late run at it.
posted by Chrysostom at 4:30 PM on April 12 [2 favorites]

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