Tue Apr 19th, 2022 at 08:20:31 PM EST
It was pretty much written in advance. All pundits agreed. Emmanuel Macron was leading the polls, far ahead of his challengers. Politicians from the French Social-Democrat party, the Parti Socialiste (PS), moved to support Macron, leaving the official candidate, Anne Hidalgo, in the dust. So did other politicians from the mainstream right-wing, the former Gaullist party of Chirac & Sarkozy, Les Républicains, this time, to the detriment of the Les Républicains candidate, Valérie Pécresse.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine even boosted Macron's lead in the polls, leaving his main challenger, Marine Le Pen, several percentage points behind, with the only left-wing candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon (France Unbowed) far behind, and fascist firebrand Eric Zemmour numbers sinking fast.
For the second round, coming up next Sunday, 24 April, every polls showed Macron leading by a wide margin, regardless of his opponent. All pundits agreed: Macron was all but sailing to re-election.
Not so fast.
The Schrödinger Candidate
As I mentioned in my first diary, Macron has been doing little campaigning, watching the situation in Ukraine, phoning Zelensky and then Putin a couple of times. Why spend time campaigning if the result was, well, foretold?
Shortly before the first round however, worry started to run through team Macron, quickly turning into panic: the second round polls were showing an ever closing gap between Macron and Le Pen. Even if no poll ever showed a Le Pen victory, the spread between the two were getting into the margin of error,
The lady with cats
In contrast to Macron who did close to no campaigning, Le Pen has been running a PR campaign for years to smooth up her image before starting the presidential campaign in earnest. Publicly, she did everything to tone down her anti-immigrant discourse and some of her more radical positions that never got any traction, like Frexit, or getting out of the Eurozone.
She did a lot of PR to erase her and her party's toxic image, starting with her father's name: her campaign material never mentioned her family name or her National Rally party's name; only her first name: Marine. She also tried to develop a low-key image with talk-show hosts on TV, hosting interviews in her apartment, where she lives alone (she and partner Louis Alliot have split-up some years ago) with her cats: cats are cute and fuzzy, who doesn't like cats?
Another strong point in her campaign: Macron was talking EU, Ukraine, meeting with Putin & Zelenski etc... Le Pen has focused on everyday, immediate preoccupations of many French voters, like jobs, purchasing power in the face of growing inflation, fuel taxes. She was also quick to distance herself from Putin following the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, even sending millions of leaflets to the pulp, because they were featuring a picture of her shaking hands with Putin. In any case, her would be core voters were more interested in domestic, daily issues than her international posture.
As a result, Macron's wide advance a few months ago was steadily shrinking and there was a real possibility that Le Pen might get more votes than him in the first round. This didn't happen, as we know: Macron got almost five percentage points more than Le Pen, with Mélenchon coming close (400,00 votes) in third place.
Macron: Going Green
Climate scientists in France have studied the program for all twelve candidates for the first round. According to them, only two candidates had a program consistent with the climate and emission targets to keep temperature rise below 2°C: Jadot (Greens) and Mélenchon. It is no coincidence that Macron, who ran five years ago on the motto of "make our planet great again", is now trying to woo the first round Mélenchon voters with a newfound religion on environment - unlike, say, the past five years of his first term, when he systematically favored the big industry and intensive agricultural interests. He has taken on board a Mélenchon's proposal of "ecological planning" by his new cabinet.
Harsher scrutiny for the second round
Now that Le Pen is effectively facing off Macron for the second round, her program is attracting harsher scrutiny from the people (and the media). Beneath the popular measures like salary increase of retirement at 60, there are other, more unappetizing things: assumed discrimination between French citizens and foreigners, even EU citizens, which is running against the EU treaties. Despite her officially giving up on Frexit, she plans to do without most of the EU regulations, by putting them on a referendum, like her model Viktor Orban of Hungary. In fact, France, the second population and GDP of the EU, would turn into a Hungary on steroids.
Another policy that's not making her any new friends: she plans to ban the headscarf in all public places. Today, religious symbols like hijabs, kippas or even large crosses are only prohibited inside public schools (not universities) and by civil servants in offices open to the public. The leopard cannot hide her spots.
Le Pen is not popular with French Muslims (estimated to about 5 millions, give or take), who voted in majority for Mélenchon. Macron is also trying to capitalize on Le Pen's weakness, but his track record on discrimination of Muslims and ethnic minorities in France is not so great either.
It could happen here
Since the first round, the spread between Macron and Le Pen in the polls has started increasing again: today it is about 54-55 for Macron and 45-46 for Le Pen. As per tradition, a presidential debate between the two candidates is scheduled for Wednesday night. Five years ago, Le Pen did poorly: she was tired by too much campaigning and ill prepared. She vowed not top make the same mistake this time.
In any case, even if all the polls are now clearly showing a Macron's lead, the results are not assured and a Le Pen presidency remains a real possibility. Let's remember other "foretold" votes six years ago, like Brexit or Trump: it could happen here...
"Third Round" in June
Parliamentary elections are scheduled for June 12 (first round) and 19 (second round). Whomever will win the presidency will need a majority at the parliament to form a cabinet. This is where things could get interesting, should the voters not give the newly elected president a majority to govern with. But this is another story. I'll just not that Mélenchon, who is decidedly thinking ahead, is trying to organize a left wing coalition to eventually win a parliament majority and become, in his own words "Macron's Prime Minister".