FI Special: the British general election and a 1st round French presidential election forecast

 

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Last year I warned of the possibility that Prime Minister Theresa May would go for a snap general election in either the spring or autumn of 2017 prior to the beginning of the serious Brexit negotiations. As it happens, the logic of calling an early general election has clearly become overwhelming for the Conservative leader, with the general election to be held on Thursday 8 June.

On the face of it, the outcome appears to be a forgone conclusion. The opinion polls all show that the Conservative Party has a strong and consistent lead over the Labour Party, with a Yougov poll showing the Tories with a massive lead of 48%, versus a second place Labour party, at 24%. As long standing readers of this blog know, surface polling should be read in conjunction with deeper underlying polling of the electorate to get an accurate sense of the public mood. What does the underlying polling data tell us?

According to the Yougov polling data, the Tories have a commanding lead on the critical issue of economic competence, with a 24% lead on this issue. When it comes to leadership, 54% of the electorate think that Theresa May makes the best Prime Minister compared to only 15% for Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour party. On the two most critical issues for the average voter, perceptions of economic competence and leadership calibre, the Conservatives are massively ahead in the polls.

The underlying polling data provides little to no comfort to supporters of Jeremy Corbyn and would indicate that the Conservative lead in the polls is durable and not a mirage. However, there are a number of factors that could contain any potentially huge increase in the Conservative majority. The first is low turnout by soft Tory voters who may feel that there is little point of turning up at the ballot box since Labour has no realistic chance of winning the election. This would be amplified if they voted Remain during the Brexit referendum as Theresa May has embraced the Brexit cause since coming to power.

The Liberal Democrats are likely to see a revival in their fortunes since their electoral drubbing in the 2015 general election. The Liberals have become the go to option for those voters angry about the Brexit result and who wish to attempt to reverse the decision to exit the European Union. The Liberals are likely to regain seats from the Tories in London as well as the south-west. Tactical voting by Remain voters, some of them soft Tory’s, could impact seats in the affluent south of the country.

The Conservatives hope to gain dozens of Labour marginal seats where majorities voted to leave the European Union. Considering the dire state of the Labour party this is likely and will compensate for the potential loss of seats to the pro-European Liberals. The anti-EU UKIP party is crumbling in the polls as its supporters defect to the pro-Brexit Tories. The combination of the return of UKIP voters and Leave voting soft Labour voters should be sufficient to turn a considerable number of Labour seats blue on 8 June.

Whilst the possibility of a Labour government is not impossible, it seems highly unlikely as a political outcome, taken the above factors into consideration. My forecast is a Conservative victory with an enlarged majority but it is too early to predict how big the majority may be.

Should Jeremy Corbyn perform better then expected during the campaign, the current talk of a landslide victory of over a 100 seats will look increasingly out of touch should the polls start to narrow. A major gaffe by the Labour leader could lead to a further collapse in Labour support (down to 20%) and push the Tories close to or above 50%, leading to the possibility of a 1997 style defenestration of the Labour party.

I will provide an updated forecast of the British general election result as the campaign develops.

1st round French presidential election forecast

The 1st round of the French presidential election race is nearing this Sunday 23rd April and the polls indicate that all four main candidates have a reasonable chance of getting into the second round.

I recently wrote that the reader should prepare for the unexpected and I consider this still to be the case. At the beginning of the year I warned that there was a possibility that Marine Le Pen (“Le Pen”) may not get to the second round, which was one of the reasons why I only gave a 60% probability chance of Le Pen winning the French presidency.  This is one of a number of possible scenarios, including Melenchon getting into the final two or Fillon performing better then expected which could happen this weekend.

I wasn’t planning to forecast the likely winners of the 1st round due to the extraordinary volatility of the French electorate and the difficulty of picking out the winners of a crowded four horse race. This remains the case.

However, my reading of the French electorate does indicate to me that on a balance of probabilities the most likely outcome of the 1st round will be Le Pen winning with Fillon coming second. Please note that this is a very tentative forecasting prediction and all four main candidates, Le Pen, Fillon, Macron and Melenchon have a plausible chance of getting into the second round.

The reason why I think that Le Pen and Fillon may have the edge is that France profonde, conservative, patriotic and the backbone of French society, will turn out in force for both Le Pen and Fillon. Both candidates have committed supporters and for different reasons feel deeply alienated and angry about the direction the country is going.

The Bloomberg article on the provincial town of Donzy may prove to be a canary in a coal mine.

Of course, I may be wrong and if I am honest, this has been the toughest forecast to make to date since launching the FI blog. We will find out on Sunday if my forecast turns out to be correct.

Whatever happens, I recommend preparing for the unexpected.

FI Special: the British general election and a 1st round French presidential election forecast

Expect the unexpected

The truth is that nobody knows what the results will be in the 1st round of the French presidential elections due next Sunday 23rd April 2017. The single most salient fact in this extraordinarily volatile election is that approximately 40% of the French electorate are undecided. Significant swings could happen on the day of the election which should be taken into consideration when reviewing the polling data.

I would therefore recommend that readers should treat with skepticism the predictions of anybody, including myself, on what the outcome will be.

Given the huge numbers of undecided voters and the political upheavals within the Republican and Socialist party primaries, I would not be surprised if further unexpected electoral shocks will be dealt by an angry and anti-establishment minded French electorate.

I will therefore outline a number of potential electoral shock scenarios which could happen in the 1st round, based on my reading of the presidential race to date.

Francois Fillon (“Fillon”)

The French conservative candidate has survived a series of bruising corruption scandals and is currently around 18% in the polls, behind both Macron and Le Pen. As Ambrose Evans Pritchard argues in the Telegraph, Fillon is an experienced, solid and presidential candidate who may yet see a revival of his political fortunes as the French public turn to a safe pair of hands. Fillon is from the political mainstream, is tough on security and is clearly the most statesmen-like of the candidates in the contest.

It is plausible that centre-right voters who are flirting with voting for Macron will return to the Republican fold, ensuring that Fillon does better then expected on election night.

Marine Le Pen (“Le Pen”)

Le Pen has consistently polled around 25% of the vote and has the most committed support base of all the candidates. Most pundits, including myself, consider it likely that she will end up going into the second round.

One possibility is that Le Pen will under perform on the night as traditional National Front voters, who dislike her anti-Euro/EU views, defect to Fillon. Fillon’s pro-business, socially conservative and pro-Euro stances could resonate with elements of the National Front electoral base. The Dutch populist politician Gert Wilders found that the centre-right Mark Rutte’s hard-line policies on security leached voters away from his own party. Fillon’s own strong positioning on the rising threat posed by Islamic fundamentalism could have a similar role in the French elections.

The other shock scenario is that Le Pen will out-perform expectations, hitting close to or above 30% in the 1st round. The bellwether town of Donzy in Burgundy has a record of accurately reflecting the national vote and informal polling suggests that Le Pen will do considerably better then the national polling suggests in the 1st round.  It is clear in the Bloomberg article that not everybody is comfortable with admitting that they plan to vote for Le Pen, which suggests a potential shy Le Pen vote, in force. One has to wonder if some of the “undecided” voters don’t want to admit to a pollster that they plan to vote for the National Front.

There is some evidence to suggest that this is a real trend. Polling during the US elections which asked voters who they thought their neighbours and friends would vote for was more accurate then the official polling data, suggesting that there was a “shy Trump” force at work which manifested itself on election night, as I predicted before the election. A similar poll recently conducted in France “…asked voters who they believed their friends and neighbours are supporting, and voters revealed Le Pen was their choice.”

A strong performance by Le Pen does not mean she will necessarily win in the sound round. Indeed, the article on Donzy suggests that a Le Pen versus Fillon contest will lead to a narrow Fillon victory. However, a strong performance by Le Pen would electrify the country, the financial markets and provide the National Front with massive momentum going into the second round.

Emmanuel Macron (“Macron”)

The independent centrist Macron is the golden boy of the Parisian elite, the media and the financial markets. It is clear who the bulk of the French establishment would like to see winning on 7th May. However, the French are in a rebellious mood and are deeply unhappy about the economy, security and the state of the country. It is questionable whether Macron, an inexperienced politician, can persuade the French population that he is ready to be head of state.

Polling suggests that around 40% of the Macron vote is undecided whether to vote for him, by the far the softest support of all the leading candidates. There is a real risk that Macron has peaked too soon and will see a fall in his numbers on election night to around 18%, knocking him out of the race.

The alternative is that Macron will do better then expected, with voters signalling a readiness to rally around a centrist, pro-European and reformist candidate after flirting with the radical fringes on the Left and Right.

Jean-Luc Melenchon (“Melenchon”)

The hard-left Melenchon has been a surprise hit during the two presidential debates held and has seen his poll ratings jump to around 18%, just ahead of Fillon. It is clear that the hard-line socialist has the momentum going into the 1st round.

Melenchon is a Euro-sceptic, hostile to globalisation and a “soak the rich” candidate of the Left. The mere possibility that he could get into the second round is causing alarm bells to ring in trading rooms and boardrooms in Paris, London and New York.

I consider the possibility that Melenchon could get into the final two a real possibility assuming he is able to further consolidate the Left vote. The Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon is seeing his poll rating slump as socialist voters get on-board the Melenchon train. The truth is that voting for Hamon is a wasted vote, if you are a socialist, whilst Melenchon now has a realistic chance of getting into the second round.

Should Macron and Fillon both get approximately 20% of the vote, Melenchon could sneak into second place assuming he can get a further fraction of the Socialist party vote in the coming 10 days. A Le Pen versus Melenchon contest would be the ultimate nightmare for the French and European political establishments and would trigger violent upheavals in the financial markets. Whilst I do not consider it likely, it is not improbable, taking into consideration the trends within the polling data.

Conclusion:

We will soon find out who will be the winners of the 1st round and I will publish a Forecasting Intelligence (FI) blog post on the outcome, the implications and whom I think is most likely to win the second round.

Expect the unexpected