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

4 thoughts on “French presidential elections: Final forecast

  1. Richard says:

    Lowest turn out in decades. And one of the dirtiest and most unpredictable elections in recent French history. Not so much a vote for Macron and his policies, but more of a vote against Le Pen, though not quite the Republican Front of 2002. So not much wide spread enthusiasm for the man I imagine. More of a sigh of relief amongst many in France. The vote was more of a “lesser of two evils” vote for many. She’s obviously still too “toxic” in many people’s minds, especially the amongst the old and the republican. The lady still has a LOT of work to do in cleaning up her party’s image. In many French people’s minds, Le Pen = Fascist! That’s the REAL problem.

    Though eleven million voters went for Le Pen. French populism is not quite defeated as a movement. On the contrary, it’s grown largely in the past few years. Le Pen is probably now a significant party of opposition, if not the main party of the opposition to Macron. Rumours were some month’s ago that her party never really thought they had much of a chance of winning this year’s election. They were originally planning on trying to win the NEXT election in five years time, after Macron (boy wonder) had gone the way of Hollande. Mr 4%.

    I suspect the liberal establishment and the Hollande government DELIBERATELY nobbled Fillon with the Penelopegate revelations just before the run up to the elections in order to get rid of what they saw as their main opposition to their chosen successor Macron. I think the Establishment threw Fillon under the train to get him out of the race for their passionately Pro-EU candidate. A president who is obedient to the EU and guaranteed to hang on to the coat tails of Frau Angela Merkel. It’s worth noting that Macron walked out to the European Union anthem, “Ode to Joy,” at his election victory. Now there’s a clue of what’s to come.

    Macron say’s he want’s to reform the EU. No he won’t. Fillon might have. Fillon was pro-EU but seriously critical of it. Macron is for status quo and the “everything is fine” and “don’t rock the boat” candidate. Macron is the continuation of Hollande. It’s a stitch-up. The French just got bamboozled. Though not much of a real choice between Plague or Cholera as they say.

    A run off between Fillon and Macron could have easily resulted in a Fillon Presidency. And a run off between Fillon and Le Pen would have been a tighter race and resulted in a right wing government whoever won. I still suspect Macron is a “fake politician” and an Establishment plant.

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  2. Richard – completely agree with your analysis.

    It is true that the National Front never thought they had a chance of winning the election. Their aim was to get into the 40’s (which was perfectly achievable but Marine screwed it up with a shockingly poor campaign). It will be interesting to see if Marine remains as leader or whether she is removed or pushed to resign later on this year.

    My own view is that the “detoxification” strategy is only half done and the next stage would be to re-brand the movement and preferably get a non-Le Pen to take over the party. This new “Patriots” party would systemically reach out to the mainstream Conservative Right in the coming years and remove any elements within the party still associated with the toxic old regime. Such a strategy could lead to a victory in 2022 but that is some years off.

    Regarding Macron, he is a continuation Hollande and will probably be just as successful in government. Interestingly, a majority of French people (60%) don’t want his new movement to have a majority in Parliament. As for Europe, Macron is a clever guy and must realize that the euro zone is unsustainable in its current form.

    It will be fascinating to see how he reacts once he realizes that Merkel will not grant the kind of big concessions on a European finance minister, fiscal transfers and eurobonds which would make the euro zone work. Will he turn on Berlin, build an alliance with the Club Med countries or crumble into line with the German bloc? He is ideologically pro-European but his recent Reuters speech warning of Frexit and a National Front government within 10 years suggests that he is aware that time is ticking…

    I have made the mistake of under-estimating the man to date, so I wouldn’t say for certain that he will make the same mistakes as President Hollande. He may surprise us in the coming years.

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  3. Klassa – regarding the German elections, the situation at the beginning of the year has changed a lot. The populist/far right party Afd was polling above 10% in the polls and serious commentators were talking about Afd surging to 20% by the September elections.

    That has changed. The Afd have dumped their relatively popular female leader and have lurched to the far right which will make them toxic to the majority of the German population. The AfD, like UKIP, appear to have big issues with organisation, leadership and divisions which make it very unlikely that my forecast prediction will turn out right. The one wild card is a return of the migration crisis this summer which might lead to a revival of the Afd fortunes.

    The other big change was the recovery of the Social Democrats with the surprise return of Martin Shulz who, for some reason, is popular with the public. Although the “Shulz effect” is fading now, it has led to anti-establishment working class voters who had been planning to vote for the Afd switching to the social democrats.

    My current forecast remains that Angela Merkel will win the election but the Social Democrats will do better then I forecast at the beginning of the year and the Afd will do worse.

    The Italian elections which have to happen by early 2018 are by far the most interesting. Anti-Euro parties are polling around 55 – 60% in the polls but I would expect that as the election near that will go down to around 50%. I have under-estimated the impact that the fear of exiting the euro/EU has had on conservative and older voters on the Continent and how this has impacted the populist vote in the Netherlands and France.

    Putting all that aside, Italy rather then France has always been the country I think is most likely to exit the Euro first simply because the public are closer to 50 – 50 on the subject and the political class is far more divided then France. There is a reasonable chance that the Five Star Movement could win and lead a coalition of anti-Euro parties that would take Italy out of the euro.

    However, the events of the last few months has made me more cautious about making predictions of populist victories on the Continent.

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