En garde! The battle for France’s soul is in full swing. Not since the creation of the Fifth Republic have the values of liberty, equality, and fraternity been so fervently debated.
What exactly those words mean to the people of France will be decided next month – for what is the President if not the embodiment of the will of the third estate? The system set up by De Gaulle is an enthralling one for enthusiasts of both political demography and electoral systems everywhere. We get to enjoy not just one, but TWO elections – both a traditionally European proportional long-list and then a full blooded, Anglo-Saxon winner-takes-all affair. And, just when you thought it couldn’t become even more of a thrill ride, there’s some fascists thrown into the mix! Yes, the Front National’s Marine Le Pen is not only a serious candidate, but currently leading the polls. Her opponents? From the old guard; scandal-ridden François Fillon of the centre-right Les Républicains, in the descendancy since the heady days of Sarkozy, and to the centre-left, the decimated Socialist Party’s ‘answer to Jeremy Corbyn’ Benoît Hamon. Le Pen’s real opponent appears to be ‘upstart’ Emmanuel Macron – former socialist minister turned radical (in the French sense, which means…moderately liberal) bad boy whose surge in the polls looks like the centre’s response to the fact that we might actually need a candidate who is neither A) going to destroy the country’s economy through swingeing Thatcherite ruination nor B) is going to literally kick black and brown people out of the country. This blog never shies away from its political preferences – it’s ultimately pointless anyway given we’re all bringing our own baggage to any sort of analysis – and in this time of fake news and conspiracy theories it’s best just to lay it all out there as a disclaimer. So today we’re gonna look at how, electorally speaking, the French can best stop Le Pen, their probability of doing so in various scenarios, and the contingencies which could lead to a literal evil villain (and I don’t even believe in good and evil as objective things but, yeah, a literal evil person) from taking over the heart of the world’s romantic capital. So settle in, it’ll be fun!…trust me.
ROUND THE FIRST
Our 4 musketeers are joined by a host of other colourful figures from across the French political spectrum to battle it out in the first round on the 23rd April and reach that all-important playoff. These include Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the Left Front, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan of the Gaullist France Arise party (NB – The Republicans also consider themselves Gaullist, and indeed most on the right – and many on the left – claim the label. In terms of policy output it doesn’t really mean a great deal although in the current climate it’s a placeholder for euroscepticism), Nathalie Arthaud and Philippe Potou for the far-left Workers’ Struggle and New Anticapitalist Party respectively, and starting from the back of the grid, darling of the LaRouche movement (no, me neither), Jacques Cheminade.
Obviously the polls are updating all the time, but in my analysis I’ve used an average of the last ten polls which you can find the source for here. (It’s Wikipedia, ok? Wikipedia is awesome shut up back there.) The averages provide the following figures (as of 9/3):
Le Pen: 26.1% Macron: 25% Fillon: 19.7% Hamon: 14.2% Mélenchon: 11.3%
Dupont-Aignan: 2.9% Arthaud: 0.7% Potou: 0.4% Cheminade: 0.2%
Now we could just leave it there and say it’s pretty clear Le Pen and Macron will sail through. Perhaps the only thing which may derail the seemingly inevitable is Fillon’s possible dumping by his party in the wake of the scandal(s) currently surrounding him. If they were to replace him with the moderate Juppé, The Republicans may sneak their man past Macron into 2nd (he polls consistently 5% better than Fillon when put forward by pollsters as an option). As time goes on and Fillon hardens his resolve, however, this is looking less and less likely. Centre-right voters are probably by now accepting the prospect of a choice between a woman who wants to dismantle their work to turn Europe into a beacon of free trade and a man who wants to reverse Hollande’s trend toward authoritarian government and reassertion of French nationalism we’ve seen in the wake of the awful terrorist attacks in Paris and Nice that they much appreciate. It’s not an easy choice for them, but it will likely be decisive, BUT we’ll get to that in the second round.
We can make the first round a little more interesting by breaking it up into regional voting patterns. Now, I’m going to put out a disclaimer that I have used the old, pre-2016 regions for analysis. It’s just much more interesting looking at more regions than the current super-regions, and is easier to compare with the 2012 edition. If you look at how each region voted relative to the national vote in 2012, you can work out a ‘ratio’ by which each region will alter their vote to a particular candidate based on how well they are polling nationally. For example, in 2012, 31.7% of those in Île-de-France voted Hollande (a plurality of voters). This is an increase on the national average vote of 28.6% for Hollande. Dividing the latter by the former gives us a figure of 1.1 – this is our ratio, and we can multiply this by current polling figures to project how well Hamon will do this year. When we do this, the Socialist’s pitiful poll ratings are only marginally increased (by 0.1, obviously) giving him 15.7% of the vote. This is the methodology I’ve used for each party in each region.
As regards Macron, as there is no direct data to compare, I’ve lifted Bayrou’s figures from 2012 to create Macron’s ratios. This is because they largely occupy the same centre-centre/left liberal, pro-European, pro-free trade, position, no better demonstrated by the fact Bayrou decided not to stand this year.
So yak, yak, yak, what does this all MEAN?
Well, here’s a map projection of the first round according to my (ad-hoc, competely unprofessional and probably wrong, but still I tried so sorry but here you go anyway) figures & methodology :
Now this map on its own means zilch, because France is not a federal system where the states elect the president with electoral college votes like some other countries-who-won’t-be-named who think that’s a good way to interpret popular will for some reason. (Next week I’ll do a what-if projection if France DID vote in this way; stay tuned!)
Le Pen wins the region battle 13-9 (excluding overseas dependencies and territories which all stick with either Hamon or Fillon, to very little consequence in terms of the overall vote). Interestingly, if we filled in Rhône-Alps orange (and it is very close to being so) we would have a near-perfect East-West divide, which is not a natural state for French politics. Normally it is a latitudinal polarity rather than a longitudinal one; at the last election, the southern mainland was staunchly socialist, with the north conservative, and enclaves for Hollande in Paris and Brittany. It seems like those who spend their day to day lives next to other Europeans no longer want to be friends with them.
In any case, the actual figures would be:
Le Pen: 9.3 million Dupont-Aignan: 1 million
Macron: 8.9 million Arthaud: 250,000
Fillon: 7 million Potou: 140,000
Hamon 5 million Cheminade: 60,000
Melenchon: 4 million
So yes, even complicating the picture with regional ‘ratios’ we see pretty resounding victories for Le Pen and Macron. Interestingly though, the combined numbers of the two leftist mainstreamers would be enough to squeeze Macron out of the second round. It seems unlikely that Mélenchon (and it would be Mélenchon, as the less popular and less powerful) would want to/manage to convince his party to pull out of the race and endorse Hamon. Even if he did, it by no means guarantees all of those 4 million votes would go straight in the Socialists’ pockets – and it would have to be pretty much all of them if they were to exceed Macron’s projected 8.9 million.
Similarly on the right, Fillon would finish second in a fair few regions but probably won’t be able to scoop sufficient aggregate votes to make it through. Dupont-Aignan is unlikely to step down and endorse Fillon given their differences on the economy (Fillon is the closest you can get in France to a Thatcherite, where Dupont is naturally more central on the economy given his Gaullist credentials). Again, Juppé would stand a much better chance of mopping up votes from those on the centre right drifting toward Macron, but as I say, this is another less than likely development. There’s just too many ‘if’s for me to look beyond a Le Pen, Macron 1:2. So, onto the showdown.
ROUND THE SECOND
Here’s where it gets pretty much impossible to predict – statistically speaking. We have no reference for a runoff that features neither of the establishment parties. Front National of course reached the second round once before, in 2002, however faced (and were completely destroyed in a landslide second round) by Jacques Chirac. This time, the lack of either makes it a more intriguing prospect, but one which I think (and dear God hope) will have the same ultimate end: a Front National failure. The margin won’t be so stark this time, however.
I’ve done some very speculative, very made-it-up-on-the-spot maths to determine who will win the second round, and with it the presidency. Assuming the turnout in both rounds will be roughly the same, I’ve assigned the following percentages from the other candidate’s votes toward the two remaining hopefuls thus:
Hamon: 75-25, Macron-Le Pen
Melenchon, Arnaud & Potou: 67-33
Cheminade (for what it’s worth) 90-10
Fillon and Hamon voters I believe will both favour Macron, as will the far left (reluctantly). Dupont-Aignan supporters I imagine will largely nudge themselves enough to the right to endorse Le Pen, but even with her having the highest figures in the first round and the support of a third of Fillon voters and quarter of Hamon’s, this won’t be enough . My projected final figures are:
Emmanuel Macron: 20 million (+11)
Marine Le Pen: 16 million (+7)
It’s not ‘close’, not really, but it’s also pretty terrifying that 16 million French people look like they’re gonna vote for a neo-Nazi. The map breakdown looks something like this:
6 regions switch from Le Pen to Macron when given a choice just between the two. Le Pen’s loyalists come unsurprisingly from the far north; traditional mining regions such as Nord-pas-de-Calais, and far south: the coastal areas directly affected by the migrant crisis, and ever-traditionalist Corsica.
I wouldn’t sigh in relief just yet, because after all I, and most other people thought Hillary would win and the UK would vote Remain, and statistics are ultimately less reliable for predicting personality-based elections than party-based. Nonetheless, there isn’t just the numbers to take into account here; France has a long post-war history of the centre-left and centre-right ‘common sense’ majority coming together to defeat extremism. 2017 is their toughest challenge yet, and, given all that’s happened in the past year, I won’t be shocked if Le Pen does manage to terrify enough of the decent people of France into voting for her evil regime. But France is not the United States, and it is not the United Kingdom.
I am cautiously optimistic that France will continue its historical commitment to the pursuit of liberty and equality (I care less about the fraternity bit – a bit gender-exclusionary that one if you ask me) and will rally again to defeat Le Pen’s bigotry.
Bonne chance, mes amis