As the French Presidential election moves into full speed, candidate Eric Zemmour is the talk of the town. A former TV pundit and now candidate, his entry into the race has shaken it up. We have been predicting for weeks that Zemmour’s strategy and persuasion powers make him likely to lead the right into the April 10th first round, and triumph in the second round [a candidate needs 50.1% to win]. While there is still much work to do, Zemmour is closing in on the title. His Youtube channel is breaking the race. As he turns on the flamethrower to the other right wing candidates, he will take their voters and have a strong base against Macron.
In our First Piece on Zemmour, we highlighted Zemmour’s singular talents in messaging, in debate, in framing issues, and his unmatched ability to judo flip opponents’ attacks. He has a variety of techniques he has used to create the narrative of the entire campaign, and is squeezing like it a vice on the others. We predicted on December 8th that “In the next two or three months, the other right wing and right leaning parties in France will collapse as all their voters stampede to Zemmour. “ The first data on that is now here- Zemmour’s social media is mushrooming, while the others stand in place.
In our Second Piece, we profiled his first debate appearance as a candidate. The media walked into every trap he had set, blasted his message, and failed at any kind of takedown. The polling data at the end showed it was about as a strong an appearance as he was likely to get after not being seen in such a format as a candidate, and being painted as a villain by the left for years. He has kept moving the frame since then and the personal attacks have cooled from the media. They are trying to debate him on the issues, which just pours gas on his campaign’s fire.
After these introductory weeks, where Zemmour has refined his messages and debated many journalists and politicians, the campaign moves into its new phase – winning the unified right and securing the entry into the second round.
We predicted last month: “Zemmour 2.0, with glasses, is no longer the political pundit and bomb thrower of old. He is now restrained, older, wiser. He is a respectable statesman uniting the French nation.” Right on cue, Zemmour over the next month issued an extremely positive new message, videos of him touring farms, villages, and issued a call to….”Unite the Right”.
Is it becoming clear yet that Zemmour knows exactly what he is doing and when to do it? He has probably studied so many French political campaigns that he has an encyclopedic knowledge on the topic. We cannot read minds and have never spoken to Zemmour nor his inner circle. Instead, we are just Decoding how Jedi level persuaders do politics.
Initial data shows that while polls are not yet reflecting a spike for Zemmour, his message is spreading rapidly and the race on the right is narrowing fast. Voters on the right are internalizing the Zemmour narrative and window shopping for a new candidate. In afew more weeks, they’ll buy and proudly put on their Zemmour t-shirts.
The most recent poll from Ifop shows a bump for Zemmour over the past ten days, no doubt as the new message keeps connecting. Only 2.5% separates the three candidates of the right now. I use this poll because it more closely matches the recent averages, and because I refuse to believe that someone with 30m+ Youtube views is a distant 4th. “But Decoding Politics says Zemmour is a genius! Why he isn’t ahead!!?!”
To counter that, we need some perspective. These things don’t happen overnight. If we zoom out, we can see that comparing the one year trends to current numbers confirm all of them are in progress. As Zemmour’s YouTube blows up and his political allies increase, they will accelerate.
The race for the right has gone in one year to a foregone conclusion for Le Pen to a three race way around 15%-16% support. But Zemmour’s most recent moves ensure he pulls into a comfortable second place. His rise in the polls is paralleling two other recent political figures:
Macron’s 2017 trajectory
We will remind readers that three months ahead of the 2017 race, Macron himself was third placed (yellow line). He then rose to finally beat Le Pen (dark blue) slightly in the first round and conclusively in the second round. Given the field, it is not at all unthinkable that Zemmour adds three to five points while others weaken in the first round, and wins in the second round.
Recently in Chile, JA Kast rose 18 points in the polls from fourth to first (blue line). He made it to the second round with a very similar platform to Zemmour’s. He did not win, as the current right wing government in Chile is deeply unpopular. He had to work with many divergent factions. But it does show there is a path to do this.
Assessing Zemmour’s Social Media Game....
President Trump rode to victory in 2016 due to his virtuosity on Twitter and the massive follower base he created. Indeed, Trump had almost 75m followers before his account was deleted. So social media is clearly a major factor in modern elections. A thorough review of the data initially looks bad for Zemmour. But he has managed to blow up on Youtube, which will lead him to victory.
How does everyone stack up in the French election? Let’s go through the numbers of the four major candidates.
Macron dominates everyone in terms of the number of followers. Being President for five years, especially during a crisis like COVID, will do that to your numbers. Of the three right wing candidates, Le Pen has the most followers on twitter, Instagram, and facebook. This is probably a legacy of her #2 finish in 2017. Please note also, that France has a population of roughly 65m. So forthese numbers to be equivalent to American ones, they should be multiplied by 5. Macron’s Twitter following is over 10% of the population of France.
|As of Jan. 7th
So in this case it looks like Le Pen could derive more votes from her larger social media following, and Macron has a large enough platform to steamroll all of them. Pecresse is the weakest on all platforms except Twitter. We will analyze Macron’s social media more closely . at a later time, as he still has not declared as a candidate.
But I think we have to look below the surface, and we have to realize that Zemmour is playing a totally different game than the others. The data supports this, and his level of engagement is incredibly high. Youtube is how Zemmour is going to get to the second round and win. And these numbers just come from his official channel – we are not including the dozens of fan channels and official party channel.
…He is The Wizard of YouTube
First, let’s drill down and see the extent of his dominance on YouTube. He leads all the other in numbers of subscribers by a comfortable margin. But in terms of views, the lead is huge. And this is with a channel he only started in April 2021!
|As of Jan. 7th
|Total Channel Views
Pecresse is the leader of a major party and has been on YouTube since 2015. She has (estimated, as she doesn’t release it publicly) 300 subscribers and her entire channel has generated below 200k views. Many videos listed on her home page have less than 1000 views. Using this as a proxy for enthusiasm, Pecresse has almost zero behind her. Many members of her party say in polls they will vote for her, but one can see this is more of an obligation than a positive choice. By contrast, one three hour video appearance by Zemmour from last month on Cyril Hanouna has 4.5m views.
Another Zemmour strategy that works is to flood the channel with videos from a minute long up to four hours. Many of these are also on his campaign website, where he speaks into the camera to present his proposals. Interested in Taxes? Security? Identity? Farm policy? A debate with Macron’s Economy Minister? Just keep browsing and you’ll find the right one. No candidate offers anything comparable. I imagine that many voters stumble on one and binge watch fifteen more- the next time they stop in, they’ll remember to subscribe.
He has also done a great job of doing what I would call specific group targeting. He released a wonderful video for Christmas[subtitled], and spoke for around five minutes of the message of Christian holidays [full text in English]. I will guarantee this went viral in churches on a topic no other candidate has discussed in this way. It garnered 325k views, a great result. Locking down small, motivated groups like these will be crucial for turnout.
Social Blade Trends
One site that is excellent for social media analytics is Social Blade. We are going to look at some of their data, and it clearly shows incredible engagement for Zemmour. First, Zemmour has been gaining YouTube subscribers at a very rapid rate. In December, he added more subscribers (64k) than Le Pen’s entire subscriber count. He has kept the pace, adding 10-15k subscribers each week.
Meanwhile, his views continue to explode. His channel at this pace may reach 100m views by the end of the campaign. Even if people aren’t necessarily following him, they are certainly watching the content.
Let’s compare that to the performance of the candidate most predict will lead the right, Marine Le Pen. Her total video views are averaging ~100k per month, almost 1/100th of Zemmour’s total in December! There has been no spike in election enthusiasm as the race gets going.
And her subscriber count ticks up very slowly. She has added….2k subscribers in the past three months:
It’s fairly obvious that Zemmour’s two right wing opponents have little real personal support, only support for their parties and positions. It will only take a few weeks of Zemmour’s media bombardment before they all abandon their boring candidates. This will also allow Zemmour to bypass the mainstream media messaging and to be able to confront Macron on a fair playing field.
Furthermore, you may ask about Le Pen’s twitter page- surely, 2.6m people is going to help? Essentially, they were all accumulated in prior cycles. There has been comparatively small enthusiasm by new voters since COVID began. She has gained 14.5k followers in the last 30 days, to Zemmour’s 25k. The headline number is strong, the engagement is not.
Zemmour has a small follower count as we pointed out. But his likes and followers have been growing steadily and show the recent enthusiasm. I think it’s obvious that Zemmour’s total mastery of television because of his twenty years in the business is why YouTube is his platform. It takes time and consistency to build a strong platform on Twitter, and only having an account for two years means he has done well, despite a multi-year handicap against others. However, he can use it to maintain engagement. He often will fire off twenty or thirty short clips from recent TV appearances and events. And, apparently his FaceABFM appearance set a record for the channel.
Uniting the Right
Another Zemmour strategy unveiled this month is a conscious effort to unite the various right wing parties of France. For context, France has in many past elections seen two or three facets of the right present themselves: Catholic candidates, ‘Moderate’ Republicans of the LR party, and the populist National Front. Now we have Zemmour in the mix. Combined, they total up to 50% and so when a candidate makes each side happy like Sarkozy, they get their strongest into the second round and win.
But repeatedly, the right has picked one faction to go the second round, and they end up getting 30-40% of the vote and losing. The National Front lost by 30% in 2017 to Macron. Many centrists just couldn’t pull the lever for her party. The last winning right wing candidate to reach 53% was in 2007, fifteen years ago. For a real Populist patriot like De Gaulle you would have to go back to the 1960’s.
While the other parties constantly bicker with each other, Zemmour has begun to extend the hand to their voters and say ‘join our unifying team’. He got the former #2 of LR, Guillame Peltier, to join his team as a spokesman. He added right wing politician Philippe de Villiers. He has gotten key intellectuals on both sides. It takes courage to be the first, and now the precedent has been made. Zemmour has also pointed that the #2 candidate of LR’s primary, Eric Ciotti, got 40% of the votes with the same platform- so why not join the candidate who can win and represents your views? Gutting a party that polls at 15% of many of its leaders and most of its voters is exactly what you want to do.
Zemmour and Peltier did TV appearances this week saying that the other right wingers are all busy in-fighting so they won’tsupport each other. But the Zemmour team can reach out to both sides with his main messages. Stopping ‘The Great Replacement’ (mass immigration) is the key issue for National Front voters. Stopping the ‘Great Improverishment’ or ‘Downgrading’ of small town and rural France is the Republicans’ issue. [These two terms rhyme in French, so it has created a very crisp unified right wing banner. Nice upgrade]. French identity and crime issues matter to both.
The First Sniper Victim
Zemmour and team took a while studying the field to look for allies and those to combat at the right time. With the help of defectors from the Les Republicans (LR) party, I think he is about to pull the takedown move on their current candidate, Valerie Pecresse. His social media is already light years ahead of hers, and a couple more things have popped up.
First, he managed to get the former #2 of the party, Guillaume Pental to join his team. He went on a range of media appearances essentially saying that Zemmour is the only one who can win and only one representing LR values. He and Zemmour pointed out Pecresse does not agree with the guy who finished second in the LR primary with 40% of the votes. Since that candidate is now out, and he had a very similar platform to Zemmour’s, it’s time to join the candidate who can still win. Might he pledge his supporters to Zemmour next? Or switch parties too?
Then Zemmour went on his most searing attacks yet on Jan 13th, saying that Pecresse is just Macron for a right wing party. She has no solutions to either great issue facing France. She supported Macron in 2017 and may do it again. She has vowed not to work with Le Pen or her voters. Therefore, rightist voters should ignore her platform and candidacy. With a small transfer initially of key LR officials and voters, her momentum will fall rapidly relative to Zemmour’s.
The Path to Sniping Le Pen
Defeating Le Pen will be easy for Zemmour. His social media skills are doing that as we write, and the gap will keep growing. The increased institutional support for Zemmour will contrast with the zero held by Le Pen and her repeated election losses. And Le Pen lost a debate badly to Macron in 2017, face to face. Zemmour would immolate her in any debate format, so she refuses.
Although Zemmour spent most of the week on TV hitting Pecresse, he did manage a body blow on Le Pen that is going to hurt her badly. When asked about her on a segment by “Face a BFM”, he responded: “Thanks to her calamitous campaign [in 2017] we have had five years of Macron. This time will be another routine candidacy….she ran last time, she’s running now, she’ll run again and again. I have a question for her voters- are you ready to lose until 2032?”
Implying that she is a routine loser, and now bordering on irrelevance, has totally flipped the frame. Instead of voting for the right wing front runner of 2017, they are voting for someone whose time has passed. Framing it as a question makes it twice as powerful as it contains a call to action. We predicted that the “Memes and Videos of Zemmour dunking on other candidates will go viral for years”. Here was the first tomahawk jam of the campaign. This language, repeated at 20x more appearances publicly, is going to sink her.
The Outlook from Here
A couple more weeks of this action and we should see conclusive evidence from the polls of a shift. Pecresse’s numbers will start sinking like a stone, and we will see a gradual trickle of voters from Le Pen to Zemmour. Then a huge crash by Le Pen in February, and a united coalition of the right for March and April 10th.
Then they will face a Macron who still has not mobilized a core message, started blasting social media, or even announced that he’s running! Even worse, he is President of the EU at the moment, and every event just confirms Zemmour’s narrative that Macron cares more about EU integration than average French people.
He really thinks that it will be a quick wrap in six weeks, and believes Hilary Clinton style, that the current polling makes him invincible. He thinks it’s 2017 again and he is running against Le Pen. Zemmour has often compared Macron to Narcissus staring into his own reflection, and his behavior increasingly confirms that.
People keep incredulously asking Decoding: “How can Zemmour, currently polling 63%-37% against Macron, ever win?” This poll shows he already added 4% in four weeks. So have faith: he just needs 1 % point per week for the next 15 weeks until the second round is held. Uniting the right and breaking YouTube will get him there.
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