BY TOM LANSDELL
With the French Presidential election just over two months away, three candidates still have the Palais de l’Élysée well within sight. Having been a firm favourite following his Primary victory in November, François Fillon’s alleged corruption has seen him plummet in the polls. Meanwhile, Emannuel Macron seems to have galvanised the progressive vote, and Marine Le Pen’s popularity has proved resilient.
Voting intention (February average)
The ever-escalating claims made in Le Canard enchaîné last month that François Fillon used almost €1,000,000 of public funds to pay his family for roles that did not exist have considerably affected his standing in the polls. Having led at around 27% in December, Fillon has now sunk to 19%. While Fillon’s camp will hope that the scandal will only be a temporary setback and will not deter free-market conservatives from voting for their only representative in the race, the fact that French prosecutors have opened an official investigation suggests that Fillon will be dogged by the allegations for the remainder of the race, possibly even leading to a withdrawal.
Although Le Pen has been quick to brand Fillon’s defence as “lies”, the political utility of an anti-Fillon campaign to her is limited considering that the Front National’s main demographic pull is from the working class, whereas Fillon swing-voters are predominantly middle class and hence more likely to drift towards Macron. Instead, a continuation of her Trump-style anti-elite rhetoric will be much more effective and we should not be surprised if we hear pledges to “Drainer Le Marais” in the near future.
Anti-elite, rather than anti-Fillon rhetoric also plays into Le Pen’s hands in that it increases the chance of Fillon being her opponent in the run-off. Many socialists who back the likes of Hamon and Mélenchon will be prepared to hold their nose and vote for Macron in the second round, but far fewer would be prepared to vote for an ardent neoliberal like Fillon. This is borne out in the polls – Macron has a healthy 26% second round lead over Le Pen, whereas Fillon has a much narrower 12% lead. Although it involves a small risk of not making it to the second round, it would therefore be prudent for Le Pen to hold off a “crooked Hilary” style campaign until the second round. Even with the likely populist bump on the day of the election, the chances of Le Pen beating Macron in the second round currently look slim.
As his popularity continues to grow, Emmanuel Macron should be seen as the new favourite. Although before the race began it seemed as though there was no market for another progressive voice, Macron’s independent candidacy separates himself in the minds of the public from the failures of the Socialist Party; yet at the same time reaches out towards his old party’s core vote. As Hollande found out, balancing support from both the Left and the Centre proves to be a near impossible task when it comes to enacting policy once in office, but it is Macron’s successful rhetorical balance that looks likely to hand him the keys to Palais de l’Élysée in the short term. This claim might seem controversial given Le Pen’s healthy and consistent lead in the polls, but her lead is worthless if she cannot attract second round votes.