French presidential elections: Final forecast

It’s nearly over.

The exit results will be published within the hour for the French presidential elections. All the opinion polls have shown that Emmanuel Macron (“Macron”) has consolidated his comfortable lead over Marine Le Pen (“Le Pen”) and the betting markets are overwhelmingly predicting a Macron victory.

The presidential debate held on Wednesday was the last big opportunity for Le Pen to build momentum going into the final days of the campaign. What she needed to do was reassure undecided voters that she could be trusted to take over the country, would not plunge the country into economic chaos and civil unrest and would restore order to a nation troubled by a series of jihadi terror attacks.

Whilst her aggressively populist pitch may have worked well with elements of her core base, it didn’t reach out to Fillon voters, who were most likely to switch to Le Pen. I noted in a previous post that the “silver voters” were the key kingmakers of this election and that Le Pen was struggling to get over 40% in the polls due to hostility to the National Front/Le Pen brand and opposition to her anti-Euro/Frexit economic agenda.

Some pundits have argued that Le Pen never had a chance of winning as the so-called Republican Front would mobilise to prevent her from winning. Yet, polling showed that Le Pen would have defeated President Hollande if he had got into the second round. Clearly, if the mainstream candidate was unpopular enough, Le Pen could win a presidential election.

For Le Pen to win tonight, she will need to capture the “silver voters” and persuade sufficient numbers on the Left not to vote for Macron. If I had been her campaign manager, I would have ditched the unpopular anti-Euro policy early on and aggressively courted conservative voters by building alliances with mainstream Conservative Right politicians to assuage concerns about a Le Pen presidency.

The other issue which a lacklustre Le Pen campaign has struggled with is its core messaging. The core patriots versus globalist narrative that Le Pen has pushed for month’s turns out to have confused their core working class vote. Messaging matters in elections.

The Leave campaign stumbled upon the brilliant “take back control” message which was simple, effective and resonated with the British population. Le Pen’s campaign team appear not to have done the basics, focus polling their messages and seeing what would work best with their core and potential voters. The change in their message in the last weeks of the campaign to “protection” was probably a case of too little too late.

At the beginning of the year I predicted, with a 60% probabilistic rating, that Le Pen would get into the second round and go on to win the election. Whilst I clearly got the first part of my forecast right, it appears likely that the second half of my prediction will be proven wrong tonight. Whilst the majority of the underlying polling data indicated that Le Pen’s “France first” could resonate with the majority of the population, a superb campaign and exceptional debating performances by Le Pen, was also a prerequisite for pulling of a victory. At the end of the day, the campaign and the leader matter as much as the underlying mood of the country, as the Leave campaign can testify.

We will shortly see whether Le Pen has done better then the surface polling suggests, and has narrowed or even won the election. The lower turnout might strengthen her final result, but I maintain that the most likely outcome will be a victory by Macron.

French presidential elections: Final forecast