John Lichfield was The Independent’s Paris correspondent for 20 years. Half English and half Belgian, he was born in Stoke-on-Trent and lives in Normandy.
At the best and at the worst of times, France has a habit of guillotining its leaders. No French president has won a second term in 20 years. No French government has been supported by the electorate since 1978. The presidents François Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac were re-elected in 1988 and 2002, but only after they had de facto lost power in the parliamentary elections two and five years earlier.
Emmanuel Macron, who on 10th with 23-25% of the Voting intentions in the first round, he has been at the top for months.
This may seem surprising. It wasn’t the best time for Macron, after all. He had one of the most difficult presidencies in the Fifth Republic. In 2018/2019 there was the Gilets Jaunes revolt in the peripheral and outer suburbs of France. In 2020 there was widespread rebellion against its flagship pension reform. The last two years, almost half of his term in office, have been frozen by the Covid pandemic.
Could the most fickle electorate in the western world re-elect one of the millions of hated president who, also because of Covid, will carry out many of the reforms he introduced in 2017 had promised, has not implemented?
Yes, it is possible. Emmanuel Macron is still popular with the wealthy and highly educated, but also with many young people and many old people. His approval ratings are the highest since Mitterrand and higher than at the beginning of the pandemic.
Nevertheless, the volatility of France’s recent electoral history should not be ignored. Many voters remain undecided. Only a little more than half are willing to express an opinion to opinion pollers. And almost one in three people has changed their mind in the past three months. A Macron win could remain the most likely outcome. But there are still three ways he could lose the Élysée …
France weathered the pandemic better than many of its neighbors. Its economy has recovered strongly. The French vaccination program overtook the British one in September after a slow start. Street protests against the “health pass” flared up in August, but fizzled out in October.
Macron made most of the most important anti-Covid decisions himself, alternating between “early strike” and “wait and see”: he has France Suspended three times, but has also played against scientific advice a few times to keep France open or partially open.
Faced with Omicron, he returned to ‘wait and see’ mode. France started the new year with almost half of its 7,000 acute care beds occupied by Covid patients – well above the 3,000 mark that had triggered lockdowns in the past. Almost all of these people have been haunted by Delta. Omicron cases explode, but the effects on serious illness and mortality are still being felt.
Nonetheless, France has taken the least draconian anti-Omicron measures of any western European country except England. New partial locks, curfews and an extension of the school holidays were rejected by Macron last week – against scientific and ministerial advice. Like Boris Johnson in the UK, Macron is terrified of the impact of a new crackdown on public opinion. Unlike Johnson, he also has to consider the opinion of voters.
In a two-hour television interview in December, Macron made his first major public statement on the campaign, but refused to confirm his candidacy. His pitch was revealing: The energetic young revolutionary from 2017 offered himself as a sure hand – a man who had learned a lot in office and adversity and who could now be trusted to do the right thing.
Left only ten days later Macron an election game with the nation’s health. He hopes to earn credit for defying scientific advice on Omicron and rejecting a curfew or lockdown. Even if the country were forced into a messed up Omicron lockdown, he could still reap an electoral bonus if he were the nation’s leader in an emergency. is a scenario Macron’s opponents fear. In the regional elections last summer, all incumbent regional presidents were re-elected.
But it all depends on how serious Omicron is. Even if it’s a little milder than Delta, the sheer weight of the infections could topple a depleted French hospital system in February or March.
In that case, Macron would lose his right to be considered a « safe couple ». An election in a time of plague could help – but also destroy the president.
One of the curiosities of this French election was the implosion of the left. Seven left and green candidates are said to receive 27% of the vote in the first ballot. In 2012, 43.75% of voters voted for left-wing and green candidates in the first round of a presidential election. Where did all of these people go? But a significant part of the moderate left also went to Macron. Their support, however, is far from guaranteed.
In the 2017 elections, Macron split the center-right, but he also split the center-left, from which he theoretically came. At the moment, the polls’ fine print suggests that a third of Macron’s “base” once voted center-left. The rest come from the amorphous « center » or the pro-European center-right wing.
One of Macron’s big fears for this year was that a plausible center-left or Green candidate might emerge to replace his remaining one to reclaim moderate left. It has not happened – not yet.
The socialist candidate Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, is the theoretical heiress of Hollande and Mitterrand. It currently attracts 3% of first-round voters. The green candidate Yannick Jadot has around 6%. The Macron camp remains slightly concerned. to participate. The eloquent former Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, popular with the left, has announced her participation. Hidalgo too. Could the winner get a primary « bounce » that would win back Macron’s center-left votes?
It’s doubtful but not impossible. Should Macron be damaged by a new Covid crisis, he could give up three or four percentage points to a moderately competitive left-wing candidate. He would be within striking distance of the trio of right-wing extremist and center-right candidates, who are currently fighting for 13-17% of the votes for one of the two tickets for the second round.
It is inconceivable that a left-wing Candidate reached the second ballot. However, a more competitive left-wing candidate could steal enough votes from the president for two right-wing candidates to oust him from the runoff election.
The French two-ballot system was revived for another political age by Charles de Gaulle. The intention was to allow for a cacophony of choices that would be converted by voters into a right-left, final two-candidate election. But since the rise of the far right and the weakening of the traditional political families of the center-left and center-right, the two-round system has become a lottery.
In the first round of 2017, Macron won 8.65 million votes First place. The following three candidates were almost tied with 7.05 to 7.6 million votes. For the first time, none of the traditional center-right or center-left “government families” reached round two.
Something similar could happen in April. The opinion polls give Macron the same support in the first round as it did five years ago. Three other candidates chase second place and the golden ticket into the second round.
The big difference this time is that two of these candidates are right-wing extremists: Marine Le Pen and Éric Zemmour. The remaining candidate is from the traditional or “republican” right: Valérie Pécresse.
Zemmour slumped to 12-13% after a lightning surge to 18-19% in the polls in September. Le Pen, who was head to head with Macron before the summer, stumbled and has now recovered a little to around 16 percent. Valérie Pécresse has since zoomed from nowhere to 19-20% after winning the center-right primary last month. It has now leveled off again at 16-17%, just ahead of Le Pen.
It is possible – even likely – this trio will contest second place in the runoff election by the first election day on April 10th. A few thousand votes can be decided on the price.
It is also possible that Zemmour will run out of breath. Proposals in the UK media that the essayist and television expert might win the presidency have always been a stretch. Zemmour’s negative reviews were higher than Le Pen’s when he unofficially began his campaign in August. They have since grown by 8 percentage points to -65%.
If the Zemmour vote melts, it will split pretty evenly between Le Pen and Pécrese – with maybe a little more to Le Pen. The outcome of this three-way battle is for Macron decisive. Opinion polls suggest that Macron would crush Zemmour if they met on the 24th.
However, a second round of Macron-Pécresse would be a throw. Many, if not all, left-wing voters have developed an instinctive hatred of the president (and almost appreciate him). You don’t have much time for Pécresse either. But they would still vote for them in the runoff election to remove Macron from the Elysée.
The latest opinion polls show that Macron won such a fight – but only barely and with forgiveness. In such a scenario, a Pécrese win cannot be ruled out.
Macron’s agents claim Pécresse will turn out to be a bad campaigner but still expect to face Le Pen in the second round. However, this will depend on two unknowns: the progress of Omicron and the maneuvers and gestures of the remnants of the French left.
Still, a confident prediction applies here: if Macron is defeated, it will be Valérie Pécresse. Either she snatches « his » place in the runoff election (unlikely) or she will narrowly defeat him there (possible).
Because one thing is clear: If Macron is not the next president, she will be a woman – and it will be not be Le Pen.
I’m glad I’m not the only one who finds unheard articles more and more bulky and illegible. In most of the articles I very often give up the will to live, about a third of the way down. That leaves me with the comment section and the gossip of some pompous [email protected] I think I’ll stick with the Daily Mail, they’re a lot easier to trigger there.
I hope you won’t mind if you ask me if you are happen to be related to the M4 gas station Leigh, which shares your surname and to which one of my sonnets is addressed: -Sonet 75, by Richard CravenLeigh Delamere, you should have written verse: minor, whimsical, pre-Raphaelite or modernist maybe, but not too briefly even though we stoop to cut corners in your Travelodge at times and moan that your toilets are not nice. Leigh Delamere, I was your Porlock too. These vile desecrations, leave it alone, Leigh Delamere, my true excuse.
So the conclusion is? It will be Macron. Or Le Pen. No, not Le Pen. Then pecresse. Unless it’s Zemmour. Unlikely, but you never know. It could be Hidalgo if she can unite the left. Or the left (lower case l) can vote for pecresse, in which case it will be them, or possibly Macron.
So there you have it. A clear win for… .aaaagh. Or maybe not
« Emmanuel Macron is still popular with the wealthy and the highly educated. » That is, people like John, the author. He ignores the excessive brit bashing which is obviously aimed at wooing the nationalists.
Anyway, unfortunately, another miss line from Elves from the Unherd division of Clickbait. All of these candidates play right into Macron’s hands. All he has to do is get to the runoff and it’s a breeze.
I cynically think that he shouldn’t lose anyway. The way the Germans played the French, I cannot imagine that France would remain anchored in the EU without Macron. The prospects for that would be as bad for the Davos squad as Trump’s second term in office.
What I would say to Macron is this: you may think of yourself as Jupiter, but most of what you say and do seems straightforward to come from Uranus!
As the « Good » column rightly states, Macron has delivered a lot more than some of its predecessors. The economy is going well, he’s headed the EU for six months – what a coincidence … – which gives him visibility and seriousness. Not a bad starting point.
The only good thing about him is that he has absolutely no tolerance for wakefulness.
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