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.
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.