Archive for April, 2022

That’s the title of a commentary on the French election that I was invited to publish on the London Review of Books blog, which may be read here. I was given a 1,200 word limit, which was then cut to 1,000 and edited, so here’s the original version if one wishes to read that:

There was a general sigh of relief, in France and further afield, on Sunday at 8:00 PM CET, when Emmanuel Macron was projected to win the 2nd round of the French presidential election. The polls in the final week of the campaign all showed Macron opening up a 10 to 14-point lead over Marine Le Pen – and particularly after last Wednesday’s debate, which Macron was widely seen to have gotten the better of – but genuine worry had settled in during the latter half of March, and among hard-headed analysts as well as the inveterate hand-wringers, that Le Pen could very possibly win. With the shock over the Ukraine invasion, and consequent boost in Macron’s popularity, wearing off, Macron’s many deficiencies – programmatically and as a politician – came into sharper focus. These, plus Le Pen’s effective, under-the-radar campaigning in la France profonde and successful years-long strategy of ‘de-demonizing’ her image and that of her renamed extreme-rightwing party, the Rassemblement National (RN), caused the polls to suddenly tighten, to the point where Le Pen looked to be in striking distance of 50 percent. In this, it should be said, she was backhandedly aided by the candidacy of the even more extreme-rightwing Éric Zemmour, who made her look almost moderate by comparison.

The catastrophe of a Le Pen victory – for the future of liberal democracy in France, and for Europe and the world – need not be expounded upon here. Suffice to say that the mere possibility that it could come to pass was enough to strike terror into the hearts of millions of Frenchmen and women. So regardless of how one feels about Macron, his landslide 17-point victory – wider than what any poll had projected – was cause for satisfaction, as it signified that the RN is nowhere near striking distance of 50 percent in a national election, but also that more than enough voters of the left, whose antipathy toward Macron is strong to virulent, know to hold their noses in the voting booth and do the right thing to block the extreme-right.

In this, it was readily apparent on the evening of the April 10th first round that the election would hinge on the voters of the radical leftwing Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who reached 22 percent in a late surge of mostly moderate, strategically-minded left voters defecting from other leftwing candidates (all of whom finished under 5 percent) – with Mélenchon thereby coming close to overtaking Le Pen for the second place slot in the runoff. The vote utile almost paid off. In the 2017 election, 50 to 60 percent of Mélenchon’s voters transferred to Macron in the 2nd round, with all but a handful of the rest abstaining or nullifying their ballots. But after five years of the despised, right-lurching, neoliberal Macron, and who has given the left the middle finger on so many occasions, it was clear that the Mélenchon vote transfers would be less favorable to Macron this time, and particularly as the anti-system, protest voting portion of the Mélenchon electorate was ready to cast ballots for Le Pen (as for Mélenchon himself, he made no recommendation apart from exhorting his supporters not to give a single vote to Le Pen).

The transfers were finally more than sufficient for Macron, who received 42 percent of the Mélenchon vote according to the IPSOS polling institute, with 41 percent invalidating their ballots and 17 percent voting for Le Pen. And then there were the even stronger transfers from other candidates, notably the ecologist Yannick Jadot and Valérie Pécresse of Les Républicains.  Macron’s landslide victory thus needs to be relativized, as fully 48 percent of those who voted for him, so reveals the Harris Interactive poll, did so to prevent Le Pen from acceding to the presidency, not out of any support for Macron – and which he acknowledged in his Sunday night victory speech at the Eiffel tower. Taking into account the 28 percent abstention rate – the second highest in the history of the Fifth Republic for a second round of a presidential election – Macron won but 38.5 percent of registered voters; only Georges Pompidou in 1969 was elected with less.

In fairness to Macron, it should be noted that while up to a third of the electorate – and across the political spectrum – strongly disapproves of his performance in office – or just of him as a person; which is to say, they loathe him – his overall poll numbers have not been bad compared to his recent predecessors. Except for a several month stretch in 2018-19, during the Gilets Jaunes movement, when his approval rating dropped below 30 percent, Macron’s positive poll numbers have been in the mid-30s to the mid-40s, making him a more popular president than François Hollande or Nicolas Sarkozy were during their mandates, or Jacques Chirac during his interminable second term. Macron does have a base of those who appreciate him, principally among older, middle-class, centrist and centre-right voters. And if up to half of those who voted for him did so to block Le Pen, 43 percent of Le Pen voters, according to the Harris Interactive poll, sought above all to prevent a second Macron term. The notion that 40 percent of the French electorate is now given over to radical rightwing populism is simply not true. Le Pen’s voters are not a French equivalent of the fanaticized Trumpist base of the US Republican Party.

France’s election season is not over, as legislative elections are scheduled for June 12th and 19th. Since the advent of the presidential five-year term (quinquennat) in 2002 and with legislative elections, in a coincidence of the electoral calendar, following in the wake of the presidential election, the legislatives have almost been an afterthought, with the voters reflexively granting a majority to the party of the newly elected president. Among the consequences of the quinquennat and electoral calendar have been a significant increase in the power of the president and the effective transformation of the National Assembly into a rubber stamp for the president and his hand-picked prime minister, the latter dutifully following instructions from the former.

This scenario, which has played out according to script in the last four presidential elections, may not be repeated this time. First, Macron is the first president to be elected to a second term since the two-term limit entered into the constitution in 2008. Macron will thus be a lame duck – a novelty for a French president – which will axiomatically lessen his authority over his prime minister. Second, it is not a foregone conclusion that Macron’s empty shell of a party, La République en Marche, and its centrist allies will gain a majority of legislative seats. There is a collective desire by the disparate parties of the left, who are in survival mode, to field single candidacies in each constituency. If the imperious Mélenchon can contain his hegemonic impulses, it just may happen. Likewise on the extreme right: if Le Pen can overcome her personal ire toward Zemmour, the RN and Zemmour’s new party, Reconquête!, may field single candidacies as well. If all this comes to pass, Macron may well be deprived of a majority in the National Assembly come June 19th. The legislative elections are going to be interesting.

Arthur Goldhammer has a post-election commentary in Tocqueville 21, “L’Alternance Impossible,” as does Philippe Marlière in the NYT, “France Is Still in Trouble.”

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I’ve been dreading this weekend for the past month—with the apocalyptic scenario of a Marine Le Pen victory looming large—but am now dreading tomorrow’s 8 PM projected winner a little less (which is not to say that I won’t be wringing my hands during the countdown). Emmanuel Macron has maintained a solid lead in the post debate polls, averaging out to 12 points (56-44), which, if confirmed, means landslide. Now polls do misfire, as we’ve seen on several recent occasions, e.g. in the 2020 US presidential election, when the average of the final polls had Biden leading Trump by a comfortable 8% at 538.com and 6.8% at RCP, but with Biden winning the popular vote by a narrower 4.4% (and with Trump thus coming perilously close to winning the electoral college). But while it ain’t over till it’s over, it would be truly unprecedented for the polls to be collectively off by 12 points. C’est du jamais vu. And French polls are pretty good on the whole, e.g. the polls in the final week of the 2007 run-off between Nicolas Sarkozy and Ségolène Royal got the result almost exactly right, and likewise in 2012 with Sarkozy and François Hollande (the mean of the final polls showing a 52.75% Hollande victory and with him winning with 51.65%); as for 2017, the result was such a blowout that the polls were almost beside the point..

But Macron sure doesn’t deserve it, as I have underscored on numerous occasions, and the sentiment of which is shared by so many, as the NYT’s excellent Norimitsu Onishi and Constant Méheut reported this week on “[The] Problem for Macron in France’s Election: ‘The Hatred He Arouses’.” The hatred of Macron is real—akin to the Sarkozy hate on the left in the 2007-12 period (and the hatred—entirely comprehensible and justified—that we all felt for Trump)—which Arthur Goldhammer, in a typically first-rate election eve commentary on the Tocqueville 21 site, acknowledges but considers a little over the top. Peut-être. A lot of us, comme moi, will be holding our noses in the isoloir tomorrow.

My crap shoot prediction FWIW:

Macron: 54%
Le Pen: 46%
Blank/nullified ballots: 10%
Participation rate: 72%

N.B. I will likely be publishing my post-election analysis on another platform, which may not appear until Tuesday.

By Maria Katasonova

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I’ve been worried about the 2nd round outcome for the past month, as anyone who follows AWAV knows, but am a little less so at the moment, as all but one of the polls taken over the past week show Emmanuel Macron widening his lead over Marine Le Pen. E.g. the Ipsos poll released today shows Macron leading by 15 points, with decisive numbers of 1st round Mélenchon and Pécresse voters moving to Macron to block MLP (see below). Mme Le Pen could still win, of course—and the latest Odoxa poll shows a close race—but barring a dramatic shift over the next two days, it would be a shocker at this point.

Last night’s debate won’t change matters. For all the build-up and anticipation of high drama, the 2 hour and 50 minute debate was sort of anti-climactic. The pundit consensus beforehand had it that as MLP could hardly outdo her calamitous performance in the 2017 debate—the worst ever in French history—and which cost her many votes in the 2nd round, that it was unlikely that she would outright “lose” this one, as she would necessarily be better prepared and on her best behavior. Greater risk was seen for Macron, that his preternatural arrogance would inevitably get the better of him, reminding fence-sitting voters of why they can’t stand the man and maybe decide that they just don’t want him in the Elysée for another five years. As predicted, MLP was indeed better prepared this time, having done her homework—under the supervision of a secretive group of hard right-leaning énarques and other high-level types—and memorized statistics. And, as expected, she remained generally calm and collected throughout. No trash-talking or vituperative attacks as in 2017. But while she tried her best to sound wonkish—which is taken seriously in France; even ordinary folk given over to populism want the leader of the nation to at least give the impression of being smart—no one can out-argue the Inspecteur de finance Emmanuel Macron when it comes to policy wonkishness—even if he sometimes has to fake it himself (and which does happen). So in the exchanges on the cost of living (the nº 1 issue for the French public), pension reform, the health care system (which is in a bad state), the competitiveness of the French economy, the environment, and other issues involving spending money, Macron inevitably got the better of Le Pen, and particularly in highlighting the contradictions, incoherency, inanity, and/or pie-in-the-sky character of so many of her proposals. She was, in short, out of her depth.

Despite the length of the debate, most of the issues were treated only superficially, particularly those that make Le Pen and her party so dangerous, e.g. in the exchange on Russia, in which MLP reiterated her condemnation of the Russian invasion and support for the Ukrainian people, though also her opposition to sanctions on Russian hydrocarbons and saying nothing about supplying Ukraine with the military means to fight the invaders. Macron riposted with reminders of her party’s delegation to the European Parliament having voted against the EU’s resolutions on Ukraine and, more specifically, of her erstwhile, across-the-board support of Vladimir Putin and the loan her party had contracted with a bank controlled by the Kremlin. Macron was good on this—as he was on insisting that MLP’s positions on Europe would necessarily lead to France leaving the EU—but missed an opportunity to brandish the specter of a Le Pen presidency reorienting French foreign policy away from the Atlantic alliance and toward one with Putin’s Russia (once the war in Ukraine is over and a “peace treaty” is signed, so MLP assures, as if that’s at all in the realm of the possible in the foreseeable future and with bygones being bygones).

The immigration issue—or, rather, non-issue, as there is no objective reason why it should be one—also got short shrift, which is too bad, as it is this that crystallizes the extreme-right’s demagoguery and racism, not to mention abject ignorance and outright stupidity. Macron was at his best in the exchange on the voile—the hijab, including the simple headscarf worn by pious Muslim women—which Le Pen wants to entirely ban from public space, informing her that France would be the only country in the entire world to enact such a measure, that it is so manifestly unconstitutional, a flagrant violation of religious freedom, thoroughly unenforceable, and would lead to “civil war” (on this Macron misspoke, as what he surely had in mind was mass civil disobedience). Macron could have added, for good measure, that such a ban would majorly complicate France’s relations with states that have Muslim citizens, beginning with the Islamic world itself (one imagines the specter of Saudi or Emirati women on the Champs-Elysées being fined by the police and asked to remove their headscarves).

As for Macron’s demeanor, the prevailing view, at least so far as I could see in scrolling through Twitter during the debate, was that he was indeed arrogant and disdainful toward Le Pen. Even veteran journalist John Lichfield aligned with this sentiment, writing in The Post that “[t]he great surprise — to me at any rate — was that Macron was so aggressive, even angry…constantly interrupt[ing] the far-Right leader, to the point of being irritating…attack[ing] Le Pen from the first minute [and coming] over as petulant.” How perceptions differ, as I didn’t see it this way at all. Sure, Macron often had a mocking look when listening to Mme Le Pen’s elucubrations—how can one not?—but I don’t think he overdid it. And I would say that his comportment was spirited and pugnacious rather than angry. Whatever the case, he clearly got the job done, with an instant post-debate poll showing 59% finding his performance convincing to 39% for MLP.

For a more detailed run-down on the debate, see Art Goldhammer’s piece in The New Republic. See as well Jon Henley’s analysis in The Guardian, “Election debate marks normalisation of far-right politics in France,” and the post-debate take on Twitter by the Eurasia Group’s smart Europe Managing Director, Mujtaba Rahman.

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Note this year’s poster. No name. Either she assumes that we all know who she is (which we indeed do) or deems it prudent not to remind people that she is named Le Pen.

There are nine days to go to the 2nd round and with the polls taken over the past four days (ten of them) showing Emmanuel Macron with a 6 to 12 point lead over Marine Le Pen. I am not reassured, though, and continue to fear the worst for April 24th. Mme Le Pen could absolutely win. And just about everyone with whom I’ve communicated on the matter this week thinks likewise. E.g. an American student of mine from a dozen years ago, who lives in Paris and works in the private sector, wrote this to me yesterday:

Honestly, after having lived in the US (specifically Washington DC) through Trump’s election and presidency, I’m terrified of [Marine Le Pen’s] election. I’m grasping at straws trying to imagine ways her coming to power in the French presidential system won’t be as bad as I fear. As the 2nd round gets into full swing I find myself incredibly frustrated watching Macron. I have been disappointed with his move to the right over the past 3 years but am outright angry at his campaigning. The man is a terrible politician. Proposing a raise to the retirement age mere weeks before the election and literally stating his desire to emmerder les non-vaccinés right before the re-election campaign began was the epitome of arrogance and outright stupidity. He is a terrible salesman only making Madame Le Pen look like a woman with the common touch. Granted, she has come a long way moderating her form (not her substance) and benefitted from Zemmour to look moderate and centrist in comparison. I’m terrified speaking to my French colleagues and neighbors that she’ll be elected. I’m praying Mélenchon outright endorses Macron but know better than to hold my breath.

I entirely share his sentiments. As for Mélenchon, he will make his announcement for the 2nd round tomorrow, following the consultation with his base. If his base surprises France and Navarre and recommends a vote for Macron, I will eat my hat. Whatever the outcome of the consultation, Macron will need votes from a sizable number of those who voted JLM, otherwise he’s toast—as is France. À propos, Cole Stangler has an anxiety-inducing report in The Nation today on the present state of mind of the Mélenchon electorate, “‘He Just Shat All over Us’: Why Macron’s ‘Republican Front’ Is Fraying.” The lede: “Macron aims to rally voters against far-right Marine Le Pen, but alienated parts of the coalition he needs to win may sit on the sidelines.” This passage merits quoting:

Another important source of anti-Macron sentiment is the public sector workforce. From health care and transportation to education and welfare, French public services play a fundamental role in many residents’ lives. While the country has largely avoided the type of direct privatizations that transformed the UK from the 1980s onward, French governments of various political stripes have progressively sought to keep funding in check in addition to introducing management techniques that come from the private sector. These pressures have intensified over the last several years, and it’s left many employed by the state feeling resentful toward the cabinet members and executive decision-makers who manage their work lives.

That includes people like Gabriel Lattanzio, a 37-year-old English teacher at a public high school in Les Lilas [a Paris banlieue]. He said he would never vote Le Pen—his first political experience was organizing high school classmates to protest Marine Le Pen’s father after he made it to the second round of the 2002 election, and he voted for Mélenchon in the first round this year. He also backed Macron in the 2017 runoff, but he’s not sure what he’ll do next Sunday.

Over the last few years, he said his job has gotten harder and harder. Covid has been an unforeseen challenge; his school has grappled with gang violence; and he’s been forced to take on new responsibilities—all without significant pay hikes and under an education minister who he said fails to recognize teachers’ hard work: “Our hierarchy’s authoritarianism and the repeated declarations describing teachers as incapable or lazy carry a lot of weight, as does [the fact that] high schools have been transformed by a lack of funding.”

Lattanzio speaks English fluently, has studied in the United States, and keeps an eye on American politics. He told me comparisons to Bernie Sanders supporters sucking it up and voting against Donald Trump fail to appreciate the nature of Macron—both in terms of his economic program and conservative social policies. “He’s no Biden,” Lattanzio said. “He’s like Thatcher. And it’s hard to vote for Thatcher.”

Anglo-American editorialists and commentators (The Economist, WSJ et al) have been imperiously lecturing the French for over thirty years that what they need is a “Margaret Thatcher.” Well, France finally got its “Margaret Thatcher” and here we are, with a Le Pen in striking distance of 50%—and the presidency of the French Republic.

Mélenchon voters would be well-advised to heed the words of the très gauchiste, anti-Macron amateur journalist and social media influencer Taha Bouhafs:

In the unthinkable event that Mme Le Pen crosses the 50% threshold on the 24th, 1st round JLM voters who did not heed Taha Bouhafs’s plea will forever suffer opprobrium (from me at least), but the primary responsible party will be the millions of Frenchmen and women who cast their ballots for MLP. On these voters, who numbered 8 million last Sunday, I revisited a post I wrote ten years ago, between the two rounds of the 2012 presidential election, titled “Marine’s voters,” which was prompted at the time by an exceptional half-hour reportage on France 2 I had seen the day before, on the increasing support for the Front National in exurban/rural France. Everything I wrote in the post—plus the reportage, to which I linked—is relevant today, so please do check it out.

On precisely this subject, of the FN/RN vote in exurban/rural France, John Lichfield has a must-read article (April 9) in UnHerd on the Calvados village where he has lived for the past 24 years, “How Marine Le Pen conquered Normandy: Rural France faces an existential crisis.” Lichfield’s account is similar to my 2012 post and the France 2 reportage. (FYI, the 1st round tally in Lichfield’s village was Macron 30%, Le Pen 24, Mélenchon 16).

I had my own interaction with a Le Pen voter recently, which is worth recounting, as I think her story is not atypical. Before I tell it, I need to preface it with a mention of Cluster 17, an opinion research laboratory and polling operation founded and directed by a political scientist at the University of Montpellier, which divides the French electorate into 16 opinion “clusters,” not all of which can be easily situated on a left-right axis. To find out what cluster one belongs to, one answers a questionnaire (of 33 questions), which then yields the result, and with a detailed description of the sociology of the cluster, its opinion system, where it’s situated in the left-right spectrum, attitudes of those in the cluster towards the Gilets Jaunes, its electoral orientation, and its stakes in the 2022 presidential election. The algorithm is sophisticated and with everyone I know who’s taken the test, as it were, saying that the cluster in which they are situated is entirely accurate (not surprisingly, I’m in cluster 2: Les sociaux-démocrates). The satisfaction rate is 100%.

So the Sunday before last, an in-law, whom I’ve known for thirty years but hadn’t seen since last summer, came for lunch. She’s in her mid 70s, was an office secretary during her working years, and lives in a middle-class banlieue (near her grown children, who are doing well for themselves). She is what I would call a low information but highly opinionated voter, who doesn’t read newspapers or follow the news closely (her preferred radio station is Radio Classique) but will pipe off on any issue of the day if asked. I’ve never really discussed partisan politics with her, though do remember that she voted for Trotskyist pasionaria Arlette Laguiller in 1995 and 2002, as she liked her spirit and verve. N.B. I’ve always seen my in-law as leaning somewhat to the right; she’s absolutely not on the left and certainly has no idea what Trotskyism is. So I invited her into my study and asked if I could administer the Cluster 17, with me reading out the questions and entering her responses, to which she agreed. Her cluster: Les Éclectiques. In other words, she’s all over the place, with some positions on the left, others (more in fact) on the right. In the final question, which asks where one situates oneself on the left-right axis, her response: centrist. When I read to her the detailed description of the Éclectique cluster, she said it accurately described her.

I then asked whom she was voting for. The 1st round: Nathalie Arthaud of Lutte Ouvrière (Arlette’s successor). Bon, d’accord. And the 2nd round? As she doesn’t like Macron, she would be voting for Marine Le Pen, no problem, as in past elections. I was a little surprised, needless to say, as I had no idea. Her reason: there are too many Arabs in France—even though she’s half Arab (Algerian) herself, lived in Algeria for 15-20 years, and whose ex-husband is Algerian (Kabyle). But while she’s opposed to Arabs “invading” France and wants tough border controls, she’s all for France welcoming refugees (and not just Ukrainians). Eclectic. When I told her that Marine Le Pen hadn’t changed an iota and was still on the extreme right, her response: “Really?! You think so?!” (Ah bon?! Tu crois?!). Low information. I mentioned Eric Zemmour, to which she reacted: “He’s an extremist!” On that, she’s well-informed.

There are many Le Pen voters like my in-law, who hold contradictory views, are not well-informed, don’t process information in the same way as we (or at least I) do, but while they have their prejudices, cannot be labeled as political extremists. Many are open to changing their minds—I think I’ll be able to persuade my in-law to flip from MLP to voting blanc—but those who work on them generally have to be people they trust. And the people they trust tend to think the way they do. There’s a big reservoir of votes out there for Marine Le Pen.

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[update below]

A lot of people, myself included, were breathing a sigh of relief with the first projections at 8 PM yesterday, showing Emmanuel Macron finishing in first place by up to five points. I, for one, was fearing a tight finish, with Marine Le Pen a point or two behind Macron, or possibly even overtaking him, the psychological shock of which would have been huge and augured ill for the 2nd round. The sense of relief was brief, though (more on which below). The final polls did accurately project the order of finish of the top three candidates and were largely on the mark with Macron’s score, but otherwise the outcome was full of surprises, which were not at all hinted at in the late polls, not to mention those taken one or two months ago. Jean-Luc Mélenchon finishing a hair below 22% was anticipated by no one, probably not even JLM himself. In a post last December 4th, I confidently asserted that “JLM will not repeat his feat of 2017 (19% in the 1st round), not a chance…” Silly me—and to be making such predictions months ahead of an election (which I will never ever do again). Eric Zemmour majorly underperforming at 7% was another surprise, as was, above all, the stunning collapse of Valérie Pécresse, who finished below 5%—which absolutely no one saw coming—meaning that her campaign expenses will not be reimbursed by the state. What a humiliation for the dominant political party of the French right of the past sixty years.

These three, plus Le Pen, were beneficiaries, or victims, of the vote utile, of a sizeable number of voters deciding in the final days to vote strategically. So many voters of the left who were undecided or leaning toward Yannick Jadot, Fabien Roussel, and even Anne Hidalgo (there were surely a few), but wanting above all for a candidate of the left to qualify for the 2nd round—and knock out MLP while they were at it—shifted to JLM. I was well aware of the movement to Mélenchon last week in talking to friends and family (and the movement was particularly pronounced among those under age 35). Whatever qualms one may have had about JLM—and many of his late-deciding voters indeed have some—were secondary to the imperative of the left making it to the 2nd round for a face-off with Macron. And he nearly pulled it off. If JLM hadn’t dissed his erstwhile Communist Party allies over the past several years, thereby leading them to run their own candidate, he would have most certainly pulled it off.

The disappointing scores of Jadot and Roussel were due to the vote utile for Mélenchon. As for Zemmour’s underperformance, he was a victim of the vote utile for MLP. Likewise with Pécresse, some of whose supporters likely defected to MLP, with others to Macron.

One surprise of yesterday’s vote, which I have read or heard no mention of by commentators or analysts, is the total tally of left-wing votes. In the 1st round of the 2012 presidential election, the total vote of the left (led by François Hollande) was 44%, but which dropped to 27.5% in 2017 (for the four candidates of the left), with over half of Hollande’s 2012 voters going to Macron. In the course of this campaign, the polls consistently had the cumulative scores of left candidates at 25% max. But the tally for the left in yesterday’s vote is a pleasantly unexpected 32%. I will await the analyses of where these votes came from.

The relief at 8 PM yesterday over Macron’s good score dissipated with IFOP’s instant 2nd round poll, showing Macron winning in a 51-49 cliffhanger. Other polls have the margin a little wider but the fact is, the race over the next two weeks is going to be hard-fought, and while Macron remains the favorite, Le Pen could still win. Macron is not out of the woods. Unlike in 2017, MLP enjoys a “reserve” of votes that will go to her: from Zemmour (7%) and hard-rightist Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (2.1%), both of whom have endorsed her, to which one may add the surprising 3.2% of oddball candidate Jean Lassalle, who has announced that he will vote blanc but whose voters were mainly Gilets Jaunes types or other rural folk who are certainly more inclined to go for Le Pen than Macron. Le Pen will also get at least some of Pécresse’s voters.

As for Macron’s “reserves” of votes, they are considerably less significant than in 2017. The great majority of those who voted for Jadot, Roussel, and Hidalgo (8.5%)—who have all called on voters to block Le Pen—will cast 2nd round ballots for Macron. Some of Pécresse’s voters, maybe a majority, will do likewise (she has announced that she’s voting Macron, as have other top LR personalities, though with a few saying they’ll abstain).

That leaves Mélenchon and his voters as the kingmakers who will decide the election. He thundered four times last night that “not a single vote must go to Le Pen,” but that, like in 2017, he will consult his base, via a procedure on his website, on whether or not to vote Macron, vote blanc, or abstain. In view of the hatred for Macron on the radical left, it will most certainly not be the first option. Polls on what JLM voters will do on April 24th yield varying results, but with all showing a plurality abstaining or voting blanc, followed by a vote for Macron, and then a vote for Le Pen (well behind in all but one poll so far).

Macron will have his work cut out for him in trying to make nice with JLM’s voters. As I was quoted in an article in The Independent today:

“I don’t know what Macron can offer the left at this point because he has spent five years alienating them,” said Arun Kapil, who teaches politics and history at the Catholic University of Paris. “He’s made it very clear he doesn’t care about them and he doesn’t need them and doesn’t know how to talk to them.”


“It’s all going to come down to Melenchon’s voters,” said Mr Kapil, who runs a blog on French politics. “That’s how the election is going to be decided. Melenchon voters are faced with a choice of Macron, whom they can’t stand, and Le Pen, whom they hate even more.”

Next week’s debate will be decisive. It’s going to be a stressful two weeks.

Arthur Goldhammer weighs in on the subject in The New Republic today, “In French Election, It’s Macron vs. Le Pen in a Showdown for Mélenchon’s Voters.” The lede: “The candidate of the left said vote against Le Pen. But he didn’t say vote for Macron. And his voters will probably decide this.”

Also see “A Panel Response: What to Take Away from the First Round of the French Elections?,” on the Tocqueville 21 blog.

UPDATE: Ipsos research director Mathieu Gallard has posted this great visual on Twitter.

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[update below]

I traditionally have an election eve post—for French and American presidential elections—in which I offer my prediction (and my track record over the past thirty years has been pretty good overall). But no prediction this time, as I have no idea what the final numbers will be—up to a third of likely voters are still undecided, so the pollsters say, or could change their mind at the last minute—or the abstention rate, which could equal the 2002 historic high of 29%. The numbers in the IPSOS poll above are probably more or less what we’ll see tomorrow night. Barring a truly unexpected coup de théâtre, it is nigh certain that Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen will go through to square off in the April 24th 2nd round, with Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s late climb in the polls falling short of Le Pen’s even bigger climb. Every election 1st round has a surprise, of a candidate over or underperforming her/his final poll numbers. If there’s a surprise this time, it may be Le Pen finishing ahead of Macron. That would really not be good, so let’s hope not.

I wrote at the end of yesterday’s post that I would link to several good articles in English that have appeared over the past week or so. Voilà:

Arthur Goldhammer has a typically first-rate piece in The New Republic, with which I entirely agree, “Yes, Be Worried: Marine Le Pen Could Finally Come to Power in France.”

John Lichfield, the best Anglophone journalist reporting on France, in The Guardian: “Get ready for a scary fortnight in French politics: a Le Pen presidency really is possible.”

Elisabeth Zerofsky, who has reported extensively on illiberal right-wing populism in Europe (particularly France) and the US, has a very good article in The New York Times Magazine, “France’s Far Right Turn: A rising nationalist faction has grown its coalition by appealing to Catholic identity and anti-immigrant sentiment — and reshaped the country’s race for president.”

In a similar vein is Harrison Stetler’s ‘Letter from France’ in Commonweal, “Catholics for Zemmour.”

Also by Harrison Stetler is a guest essay in The New York Times, “The Man at the Center of the French Election Isn’t Even on the Ballot.”

That man is, of course, Vincent Bolloré, whom Harrison Stetler discusses with the brilliant economist Julia Cagé in an interview in Jacobin, “Far-Right Media Tycoons Are Poisoning French Democracy.”

Claire Berlinski, qui n’y va pas de main morte, expresses her dim view in Politico of French Russophilia, “Macron Just Can’t Quit Putin, But His Opponents Are Worse.”

Writing in UnHerd, Anne-Elisabeth Moutet makes pertinent observations on “The resurrection of Marine Le Pen,” justly asserting that “Macron has enabled her remarkable comeback.”

À demain.

UPDATE: These visuals impeccably situate the candidates according to their economic/social and cultural views. From a tribune in Le Monde dated April 7th, by political scientists Bruno Cautrès, Vincent Martigny, Sylvie Strudel, and Thomas Vitiello:

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A week ago I expressed anxiousness over the state of the race and the very real possibility that Marine Le Pen could win on April 24th. Today I rate the chances of that at 50-50. Almost all the polls now have a maximum six-point spread between Emmanuel Macron and MLP, with one earlier this week showing a bone-chilling three-point squeaker for Macron. And the momentum—the Big Mo’—is clearly with Mme Le Pen, as given the way election campaigns work in France, there is little that can stop it at this stage. If this campaign were happening à l’américaine—with American-style practices—the Macron camp would be flooding the airwaves with negative ads attacking Le Pen for her manifold weaknesses, extremist positions, and the dangers of her acceding to the presidency of the French Republic, particularly at this grave moment for Europe and the world (e.g. informing voters that if the Putin-friendly Le Pen is elected on April 24th, she will immediately assume the presidency of the Council of the European Union to the end of June, and for voters to meditate on this). And Macron surrogates and other politicos and commentators would be sounding the alarm in the media. But this is not possible in France, as campaign advertising on television is heavily regulated (a good thing) and with no tradition of negative attack ads (not a good thing), and now that we are in the official campaign period, the law mandating strict equality of coverage on television and radio for all presidential candidates—there are twelve—has kicked in, meaning that oddball Jean Lassalle and the laid-back post-Trotskyist Philippe Poutou, both polling in the very low single digits and with no manifest wish to actually be elected president of the Republic, are entitled to as much mention on TV, including in prime time, as are Macron and Le Pen. I had a whole AWAV post exactly ten years ago railing on against this ridiculous French law, which, in effect, deprives the electorate of serious debate and examination of issues in the final stretch of the campaign, and at precisely the moment when many voters are beginning to tune in. So Macron’s hands are tied in trying to stem the Le Pen surge, a surge that he and his campaign clearly did not anticipate.

Not that Macron would necessarily know how to effectively respond even if he had all the time in the world. His deficient political skills are continually laid bare, most lately in his refusal to participate in 1st round televised debates, arguing that, in addition to Ukraine and his other presidential responsibilities, the deck would be stacked against him in having to respond to the attacks of the eleven other candidates but in exactly the same allotted time as each of them. His reasoning is not entirely without merit, except that to the median voter in the Meurthe-et-Moselle or Tarn-et-Garonne, it just looks like he’s dodging debate. So instead of appearing on France 2’s two-hour campaign special on Tuesday evening and in the presence of five other candidates—though they didn’t debate one another—the Macron campaign supplied France 2 with footage from his Paris rally last Saturday—his only such campaign event—to use up his allotted temps de parole.

I attended the rally, which was held at the Paris La Défense Arena in Nanterre (a half kilometer past La Grande Arche), the largest domed stadium in Europe, with some 30,000 Macron fans in attendance. Very much a CSP+ crowd: educated, professional (or soon to be for the younger ones), well-off. La France qui va bien—the France that is doing well for itself—and that is not afflicted with cultural resentments or identity crises. Macron’s base. Les premiers de cordée. All the top macronistes were there on the stage—Edouard Philippe, Jean Castex, François Bayrou, Christophe Castaner, Manuel Valls et al—but none of them took the microphone. There were no warm-up speakers. Just Macron, who spoke for 2 hours and 10 minutes (with six teleprompters), which is long for one who is not only merely okay as an orator but doesn’t have anything really compelling to say. Much of the speech consisted of a laundry list of his presidency’s accomplishments, mostly small bore stuff that no one likely remembered five minutes later, or of promises to tackle problems in his second term but that have loomed or festered for years, such as the many crises in the health care system, to which one wanted to ask where he was on these issues in the three years before the pandemic hit. I spent much of the speech scrolling through Twitter and Facebook, only half paying attention. There was regular applause but little of it thunderous. A contrast with Macron’s 2017 Paris rally. At one point he said “il faut travailler plus…” I was waiting for him to finish the phrase with “pour gagner plus” but he didn’t (had he done so, his poll numbers would have surely tanked several points). Tepid applause. Telling people they’ll have to work more if he’s reelected: a sure-fire way to fire up the base and win votes while he’s at it!! He got better in the latter part of the speech, particularly when talking about Europe. One of the very few positive reasons—if not the only one—to vote for Macron in the 1st round.

But if Macron is finding himself in a fragile position vis-à-vis the extreme right-wing Marine Le Pen, perhaps he should look in the mirror to understand why. He is, as Mediapart’s Ellen Salvi put it, trying to put out the flames that he himself stoked. During the 2017 campaign, Macron ran as a liberal in both senses of the term: economic (more market oriented) and political (in the way Americans understand it), with the latter leading him to adopt a progressive-sounding rhetoric on immigration, laïcité, the legalization of cannabis, and other such societal issues. But there was no positive action on any of these once he was elected and two years into his quinquennat—after the country had been rocked with social contestation over the reform of the Code du Travail and then the Gilets Jaunes, and with the battle over pension reform looming—somehow decided, comme ça, that the French public was less concerned about economic and social issues than “regalian” ones—the “four Is”: immigration, insécurité, Islam, identity—and that these would drive upcoming election campaigns. And so he did a 180°, lurching to the right not only in his rhetoric and legislative action on civil liberties and the “four Is” but also in symbolic gestures and signals, e.g. publicly palling around with dyed-in-the-wool réac Philippe de Villiers, spending 45-minutes on the phone with Eric Zemmour and then soliciting his perspectives on immigration, exchanging textos with the Fox News-like CNews star host Pascal Praud, granting interviews on immigration and identity to the hard-rightist weekly magazine Valeurs Actuelles (a cross between National Review and Breitbart), et on en passe. The French hard right, as with its Trumpian kindred spirits outre-Atlantique, has been waging a full-throttled culture war—against something called “wokeisme” and “islamo-gauchisme“—and with Macron eagerly jumping on the bandwagon.

Macron’s rhetoric and action since 2017 on economic, social, and “regalian” issues have made him, in the words of sociologist-historian Pierre Rosanvallon, “the central figure on the French right.” There is nothing in Macron’s rhetoric today that recalls his roots—albeit shallow—in the Socialist party or youthful support of Jean-Pierre Chevènement, the longtime chef de file of the PS’s left flank before quitting the party in the 1990s. (For the record, Chevènement, now into his 80s and retired from politics, has declared his support for Macron and rejected the notion that he is on the right). Macron has manifestly decided that he does not need to appeal to voters of the left, that he has maintained his hold over 2012 François Hollande voters who defected to him in 2017—who are either content with Macron or feel, not unreasonably, that there is no credible alternative to him—and that a sufficient number of left voters who are hostile to him will nonetheless hold their noses and cast his ballot in the 2nd round to block Marine Le Pen. A risky assumption, if not a dangerous one.

As for the left, Jean-Luc Mélenchon has been climbing in the polls but, at 17%, is six or seven points behind Le Pen, who has been climbing even more. Paris-based journalist Cole Stangler has a good article in Foreign Policy arguing that “A Mélenchon vs. Macron runoff would be good for France,” but it looks most unlikely at this point that JLM will be able to overtake MLP to qualify for the April 24th 2nd round. JLM held his Paris rally on March 20th at the Place de la République, filling the square with some 30,000 supporters, which was almost identical to his march-rally in 2017. I thought he put on a strong show back then but found him unpleasant this time (or more unpleasant than usual). It was a diatribe, with JLM haranguing the crowd for an hour (a short speech for him). He had some good words on Ukraine and Russia at the beginning, but which, for some of us at least, cannot efface his fervent apologizing for Putin over the years. If it weren’t for his international stances, neo-Bonapartism, and insufferable public persona, JLM would have a strong chance of making it to the 2nd round.

He would also have a better chance if he hadn’t alienated the Communist party, which supported his candidacy in 2012 and 2017. So the PCF decided to run its own candidate this time, its new secretary-general Fabien Roussel. The last PCF candidate, in 2007, receiving a mere 1.9% of the vote, Roussel’s prospects of improving on that were objectively not promising but, thanks to his sunny persona and ‘happy days await us’ (Les jours heureux) campaign slogan—plus his reconnecting with the Communists’ working class patriotic tradition (admired by Eric Zemmour himself)—he has thwarted predictions in rising to 4% in the polls (though is now dropping, as strategically-minded left voters shift to Mélenchon). Intrigued, I decided to check out Roussel’s March 10th rally at the Cirque d’Hiver, attended by some 4,000 (half inside, the rest outside watching on the big screen) mostly older longtime PCF voters. Roussel didn’t disappoint. His speech was great, and with some good lines, e.g. on Russia and Ukraine:

And this one:

How can one not like Fabien Roussel? If I had to choose between him and Mélenchon, the choice would be clear.

Likewise with Philippe Poutou of the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste, whom I’ve taken a liking to of late. I paid no attention to his (irrelevant) candidacy in 2012 or 2017 but decided to give it a look this time. As his afternoon rally at the Cirque d’Hiver last Saturday was at the same time as Macron’s, I missed it, so caught up with it online, watching his entire speech. He’s a worthy successor to Olivier Besancenot, whom I saw for the first time in person at a small NPA event in Ivry-sur-Seine on March 19th; as usual, he was fast as a rocket. Back to Poutou, I like his non-dogmatic, décontracté style, e.g. here:

If I were a 19-year-old college student and with the political convictions I had at that age, I would very possibly join the NPA. The other extreme-left candidate, Nathalie Arthaud of the Uber-Trotskyist Lutte Ouvrière, is another matter. These are the Salafists of Trotskyism, the hardest of hard-liners, whose discourse has not changed an iota in their seven-decade existence. Their perennial presidential candidate, the pasionaria Arlette Laguiller, crossed the 5% threshold in the 1995 and 2002 elections, attracting votes from those who had no idea what Trotskyism was but liked her persona (as the auntie who has some zany ideas but whom we adore). Arthaud, who is on her third run—and will finish with 0.5%, as the previous two times—is not so charismatic but is every bit as dogmatic. I went to her rally last Sunday at the Zénith, with some 3,000 true believers in attendance. I applauded once, when she called for welcoming Ukrainian and all other refugees with open arms. Bien évidemment.

If it hadn’t been for the irruption of Eric Zemmour last fall, who dominated media attention for months, and the race on the far right, one of the big stories of this campaign would be the breathtaking collapse of the Socialist party and its candidate, Anne Hidalgo, who has been stable in the polls at a humiliating 2%. This for the dominant party of the left from 1978 to 2017, and which ten years ago had it all: the presidency, National Assembly, Senate, regional assemblies (21 of 22), mayors of cities. The PS maintains a presence, albeit reduced, at the regional and local levels, but nationally it barely exists. The descente aux enfers was set in motion at the outset of the presidency of François Hollande—who bears responsibility for the disaster—culminating in the failure of Benoît Hamon’s candidacy in 2017, when almost four-fifths of Hollande’s 2012 voters defected to Macron or Mélenchon. The fiasco of Hollande’s presidency merits a lengthier treatment than I can give it here—maybe I’ll take it up when I write the PS’s obituary—but suffice to say that it primarily had to do with Hollande’s governing style, the betrayal felt by the PS’s left flank at the social-liberal turn in economic policy (which Hollande had not announced during the 2012 campaign), and the rightist lurch on regalian issues. The PS was more deeply divided than it had ever been. More generally, the Socialists had no clear idea of what they stood for and with no coherent message to voters or argument as to why one should vote for them.

They also lacked a credible candidate for 2022. Once Bernard Cazeneuve made it clear that he wasn’t interested, that left Hidalgo as the only PS personality with any stature, though as mayor of Paris she wasn’t too well known in the rest of France. Hidalgo knew when she announced her candidacy in September that she had no chance of reaching the 2nd round in ’22. Her calculation was that the ecologists, whose primary was happening that month, would, as is their wont, select a radical left or otherwise flaky candidate who wouldn’t encroach on the PS’s potential electorate; that Mélenchon, whose La France Insoumise bit the dust in the 2019 European, 2020 municipal, and 2021 regional elections, would plunge into the single digits himself; and that she, Hidalgo, could outperform him, thereby emerging as the nº 1 candidate of the left in ’22 and, with Mélenchon retiring from politics, lead the left going forward to 2027. Not a totally crazy scenario, except that Yannick Jadot, the most moderate écolo candidate, unexpectedly won the aforementioned primary—and who would thus occupy the same social democratic space as Hidalgo—and JLM consistently led the left-wing pack in the polls from the outset. The notion that Hidalgo could better Hamon’s 6.3% in 2017 was illusory. And then there was the absurd episode of Christiane Taubira’s ephemeral candidacy and the half-baked Primaire Populaire, which only made the left look more pathetic. (In January I had a contradictory exchange on Facebook with a former colleague over the Primaire Populaire, which may be consulted here).

As for Jadot, he’s the candidate I’m voting for, as his social democratic convictions align with mine, as do his positions on my litmus test issues: immigration (the 2015 Angela Merkel attitude), laïcité (la loi de 1905 et que la loi de 1905), legalization of cannabis (just do it), and Russia/Ukraine (arms for the latter and no compromising with the former). I naturally went to Jadot’s March 27th rally at the Zénith, with some 4,000 in attendance. He delivered an excellent speech, on both form and substance. As for the attendees, who were of all ages, this is the France with which I most identify. If Jadot reaches 6% on Sunday, that will be good. Less than 5% will be a disappointment.

Several very good articles in English on France and the election have appeared in the past few days. I’ll link to them tomorrow.

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