We’re a few hours out from polls closing in the 1st round of the 2017 French presidential election. If polls are to be believed, it’s poised to be very close with 4 candidates all in a statistical dead heat in the days leading up to the election. Of the far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the centrist Emmanuel Macron, the center-right François Fillon, and the far-right Marine Le Pen, 2 will go on to face off in the run-off on May 7th. Without further ado, I’ll detail some of my final thoughts.
Macron is the heavy favorite…if he gets to the run-off
The life of a centrist: palatable to everyone and offensive to no one. Indeed, no one across the political spectrum particularly detests Emmanuel Macron. This bodes quite well for Macron if he can get to the run-off. For, if 2nd choice polling is sound, he would inherit 30% of Mélenchon’s support, 35% of Hamon’s, a whopping 53% of Fillon’s, and even a respectable 20% of Le Pen’s. In other words, he has the broadest base of support, and large percentages of the supporters that don’t get to the run-off will be flocking to his camp. The 53% inheritance from Fillon alone would be very difficult for his opponent to make up.
His tallest task: getting to the run-off. He generally leads in the polls but it’s within the margin of error, and his 1st choice supporters are less rabid than those of Mélenchon and certainly Le Pen. Could the lack of passion surrounding his candidacy cost him in a round of split-voting that is more conducive to candidates who truly galvanize their base? As your prototypical centrist, he’s built for the general but he needs to find a way to get through the French equivalent of the primary. We’ll find out soon.
Will Hamon’s supporters back Mélenchon in this 1st round?
Benoît Hamon has fallen into a distant 5th place as the left has coalesced around the fiery Jean-Luc Mélenchon. As such, he won’t be making it to the run-off. But he does still poll at around 7% of the electorate. Will his base of support back him on election day, essentially throwing away their vote, or will they switch their vote to Mélenchon who has a viable shot at reaching the finals? We’ll wait and see. 1:2 Hamon supporters back Mélenchon as their 2nd choice, so if about half of Hamon’s support switches their vote (3-4%) and half of that support goes to Mélenchon (1-2%), that could be enough to get Mélenchon to the run-off. It should also be noted that Macron receives a significant 35% of Hamon supporters’ second choice votes, so Macron could be a beneficiary of Hamon sinking ship jumpers as well.
A lost opportunity for the French Center-Right?
With current center-left French President François Hollande facing abysmal approval ratings, as he has for a long while now, this was supposed to be an election that center-right conservatives would do well in and be favorites to win. However, with François Fillon’s corruption scandals sinking his poll numbers in the last couple months, there’s a 50/50 chance that the center-right isn’t even represented in the run-off. This has to be a particularly difficult pill to swallow as polling suggests that other conservative alternatives would easily make the run-off and stand a very good chance in the run-off itself. But Fillon has stayed on the ballot, and if he doesn’t make it out of the 1st round today it’ll go down as a center-right catastrophe and one that, in hindsight, was wholly avoidable.
So What if Macron Doesn’t Get to the Run-off?
Given Macron’s broad base of 2nd choice support, he’s the clear favorite if he gets to the run-off – regardless of his opponent. If he doesn’t make it, then things get more interesting. Mélenchon would appear to have the 2nd broadest base of support, by quite some margin over both Fillon and Le Pen too, so if he were to get there and draw one of the two candidates on the right then against all odds the staunch lefty would emerge as the front-runner.
As far as I see it, there would be little to separate between a Le Pen and Fillon run-off. Fillon would draw more of Macron’s support than Le Pen, but Le Pen would actually hold the advantage in securing Mélenchon voters. One would imagine that the center-right Fillon would be more palatable to the general electorate than the far-right Le Pen, but Fillon has been trending in the wrong direction for months now and, similar to the problems that Macron faces today, Le Pen’s supporters will be more steadfast in their support of her than any of Fillon’s or the voters he could stand to inherit from other candidates. Overall, this scenario has the makings for a tightly-contested run-off.
High Stakes Election
The horse-race is intriguing, but obviously it’s the ramifications of this election that make it such a big deal. In the aftermath of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, a Le Pen victory here would really signal that the nativist far-right has risen and would be here to stay. And in Europe specifically, a Le Pen victory raises questions about the durability of cooperative organizations such as the EU and NATO going forward. Without France, it’s hard to see these organizations simply carrying on.
Equally Mélenchon would be a massive shift and an inspiring victory for the French and international left. Still, questions would certainly be raised. Expressing a similar apathy for the EU and NATO as Jeremy Corbyn, would France remain a part of these groups under Mélenchon? His taxation policies, although intriguing, also raise the specter of mass capital flight out of France. So, while well-intentioned, could his agenda be too aggresssive? Only a victory on his part and time would tell.
So ultimately stabilizing forces will desire a Macron victory. We have seen Barack Obama reach out to and endorse him this past week, and altogether his presidency would seem to be a continuation of the status quo at a time when the status quo has been largely uprooted in other parts of the world. Fillon is likely the establishment’s 2nd choice. Anything else will just raise further questions about the fortitude of the Western liberal order. Get your popcorn ready.