How far can Macron go?

Today’s post is dedicated to the scenarios surrounding how Macron can fare in the first round of the presidential elections. Tomorrow’s post will be dedicated to a hypothetical second round and beyond (legislative elections, participation in French electoral politics).

Emmanuel Macron is the great troublemaker of the French presidential race. He is not only deeply cutting into the margins of the Socialist Party (PS) and making the current primary look like an expensive exercise in futility, but also seems to be able to capture all the votes from the center, making it harder for François Fillon to consolidate his majority and expand his voting base in order to lift himself above Marine Le Pen in polls.

In the face of polls where Macron hovers between 17 and 20%, only 5 points behind Fillon and Marine Le Pen, it is legitimate to ask, given the current dynamics of the campaign, what sort of chances Macron has to upset what seems to be the foregone conclusion of the race: can he sneak into a second round?

The recurring poll, taken by Sciences Po-CEVIPOF in cooperation with Le Monde (which tracks the same dataset of voters over a two-year period), highlights the exceptional progress Macron has made in a very crowded field. Macron, in combination with Jean-Luc Mélenchon (14–15%), have been able to take all the attention away from the primary, which they both decided not to run in. With Manuel Valls polling at a mere 10% and any other winner at 7%, Macron’s repeated calls for the PS candidate to desist in his favor make a lot of sense if the left, writ large, wants to snatch victory from the jaws of the defeat.

In this context, the fact that Ségolène Royal and just yesterday Jean-Marc Ayrault, respectively third and second in the protocolary order of ministers, have talked about the possibility of not supporting the Socialist candidate (read between the lines!), certainly opens up new perspectives. Simple math consisting in adding up Macron and Socialist votes means the ex-minister of Finance could reach 30% and put him within reach of the second round. Of course, nothing is this simple: Valls would rather wear a Real Madrid jersey than voice an ounce of support for Macron and even less desist in his favor, and, the polling figures could change significantly until April. Similarly, it is hard to imagine Montebourg or Hamon give up the opportunity of a lifetime in favor of someone who is the spearhead of policies they loathe.

In order to force the Socialist Party’s hand, Macron is interestingly making use of what is actually his main weakness: legislative election nominations. Macron said that his movement En Marche! will run a candidate in the 577 districts, a promise he may have a hard time to deliver on, at least with vetted and qualified candidates. Hence why he offered PS MPs the possibility to run under double hat (PS + En Marche!) under the condition that they sign a charter where they would commit to pushing through a set of reforms of Macron’s platform.

A large enough defection movement of PS MPs towards Macron would undoubtedly put pressure on the PS presidential candidate to withdraw, given that he would not be able to control his troops in the legislative elections, but at the same time would also preserve the influence of the Socialist Party in the near future, contrary to the gloomy predictions that still abound for its existence after 2017. All the MPs of the urban area of Lyon, France’s second biggest city, decided to support Macron, even at the risk of being disbanded from the party, as the first secretary promised. Of course, Gérard Collomb, the mayor of Lyon, is also Macron’s main support and spokesperson, but this should not be underestimated, and individual defections from high-profile socialists will follow in the days and weeks to come.

At the same time, both Fillon and Le Pen, in the past 10 days, have started to focus their criticisms on Macron, highlighting the fact that his challenge is now taken very seriously. Macron’s positioning is, for all extents and purposes, making a “true” centrist candidacy useless, decreasing Fillon’s margin of maneuver towards an electorate he needs to be able to count on. Le Pen is certainly now starting to feel the heat, given that she is slowly reaching the ceiling of the electorate that is willing to vote for her, and that an elimination in the first round would be humiliating for her and probably precipitate a transition of power with her niece Marion-Maréchal Le Pen.

Martin M.

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