• Zemmour Headed To Second Round, Soon To Focus On Macron

    February 20, 2022
    Image by Jeanne Menjoulet

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    The Zemmour candidacy has continued to gain momentum in 2022. Seven weeks into the year, he is now coming up second place in several polls and clearly has the wind at his back. The other candidates are running around, confused, trying to figure out a way to stop him, but are embarrassing themselves. A number of factors have helped boost Zemmour in the past few weeks, and they look likely to continue for the next two months. 

    While there is still a long period of time ahead of April 10th (first round voting) and April 24th (second round voting), Zemmour’s continued momentum looks certain to propel him to victory. Zemmour has already knocked out the other right wing candidates and will now prepare to face Macron in the second round. 

    Polling Data Shows Zemmour On The Cusp

    Polling trends clearly show a gradual rise in Zemmour since the start of January, and a decline for Pecresse, to the point where they are basically tied in the rolling average of polls. Le Pen sits about 1.5% above Zemmour for the time being.  

    Source: Wikipedia

    But the first polls are now out showing a tie for second place- Cluster17’s poll showed Zemmour and Le Pen at 15.5% each, a tie for second. Opinion Way is showing a three way tie at 15%. 

    IFOP on 18th February was the first poll to show Zemmour firmly in second place.  Either way, it’s obvious that the other candidates are losing momentum and Zemmour is gaining it. 

    What are the events that have helped Zemmour gain momentum recently? We will go through several trends and specific events/debates that each helped give him a push.

    YouTube– the SuperNova Continues

    One of the main features of the Zemmour campaign we have discussed in the past is his reliance on YouTube to spread his message, and the enormous lead he has over the other candidates in just about every conceivable metric. That lead has just grown larger in the past few weeks, and his YouTube popularity is clearly now translating into better polls. Let’s see the growth since we first noted it on January 7th

    As of Jan. 7thZemmourPecresseLe PenMacron
    YouTube Subs361k300 [socialblade]53k233k
    Total Channel Views27m200k5.6m16.5m
    As of Feb 18thZemmourPecresseLe PenMacron
    YouTube Subs421k300 [socialblade]56k233k
    Change since 1/7+60kn/a+3k0
    Total Channel Views46m415k6m16.7m
    Change since 1/7+19m+215k+400k+200k

    In the past six weeks, Zemmour has generated 50x the Youtube views of Le Pen, and nearly 100x those of Macron and Pecresse.  One can try to explain away these differentials, but the absolute gaps are just too big to ignore. And these numbers keep growing instead of falling off. 

    Social Blade has very handy analytics for YouTube. Look at the continued growth in his weekly numbers  since he announced his candidacy December 1st

    Now compare Marine Le Pen, who many say is #2. She had a slight bump recently in her views to….80k views weekly, when Zemmour is averaging three million. 

    We have said it before and will reiterate- YouTube is going to give Zemmour the election. 

    Zemmour Owns the Frame

    Very subtly and with remarkable effectiveness, Zemmour has constructed the frame for this entire election. He did it in a way that maximally benefits him and harms others, and we are seeing the results of that now. He does not have a new immigration policy with slight tweaks- no, he is stopping “The Great Replacement” of the French people in their homeland. He does not just have tax proposals- instead, he is supporting French people against “The Great Impoverishment”. He is not against the other candidates’ voters– he wants to “Unite the Right”.  He may have no political experience – but that is because he is not a career politician, and he is running because the establishment has failed France the past forty years. And on and on. 

    This frame is now paying off. By constructing things in a way where it’s “common sense on my side, and huge failure on the other side”, Zemmour makes the others struggle. They either go down with the losing ship, agree with Zemmour and look like also-rans, or they have to struggle to create a different narrative to counteract Zemmour. Keep this overall narrative in mind as we go through the specifics on each candidate- they are all now stuck in Zemmour’s frame trying to get out. Le Pen is trying to attack him personally, Pecresse is trying to borrow his frame yet also distance herself from it, Melenchon got caught in the middle, and Macron will likely get caught there as well. 

    The Story of Roubaix – Confirmation Bias for the Zemmour Narrative

    In January, a channel on French TV did a series on “Zones Interdites [Forbidden Areas or No-Go Zones]”. They profiled the town of Roubaix in northern France. The town has a large Muslim population, and using hidden camera footage from an Arab whistleblower in the town, they profiled some shocking events. Women were required to veil everywhere, and eat in boxes in restaurants. Dolls were sold with no faces, as the Quran bans human expressions in art. Children in public schools were separated by religion. And on and on. The TV special aired, and the Arab whistleblower and the French journalists received death threats and had to go into hiding. 

    This is a massive confirmation bias moment for Zemmour. We wrote previously about the importance of confirmation bias in a campaign and how Zemmour is a master at it. His whole narrative, of Islamization and political Islam, of the French in danger, and a weak official government were all confirmed. Anyone who previously thought he was exaggerating or making it up got a cold drink of water with this news special. I’m sure many centrist voters, on watching this piece, flipped from thinking Zemmour was being alarmist to thinking that he is prescient. 

    In the first  TV appearance after the special aired, in a debate with Presidential candidate Jean Luc Melenchon, the topic of course came up. The journalists and the left wing candidate all tried to brush it off as an isolated incident. Zemmour’s turn came up, and he calmly pointed at the screen: “This is Afghanistan, two hours from Paris”. We can’t imagine a better phrase to sum up this story.  

    Zemmour’s framing of the issue of political and radical Islam making inroads in France made it inevitable that some strong confirmation bias moment would come out and wreck the other candidates on this issue. A TV story like this and the subsequent events make it extremely hard for another candidate to brush it under the carpet. 

    In later appearances, he highlighted this town and his Afghanistan phrase constantly. The media of course repeated it in every appearance, incredulous at how he could say such a thing. Then, on Feb 16th, he did an appearance on “C A Vous”….and they came back with a “Return to Roubaix” report that visited the town and tried to point out where he was wrong, only drawing more attention to the topic! Zemmour then later shot down their report as a “Potemkin Village”, as they just interviewed three people. He then highlighted that there are dozens of similar towns facing the threat of political Islam. 

    Improving the Economic Message

    Zemmour has been criticized in the past for being overly focused on immigration and Islam. He has been trying to round out his economic messaging, and recently gave a presentation on his program in Lille. After that speech, he has been repeating those messages frequently. 

    While not going into the specifics here, as they are quite technical, we will note that Zemmour is up to his usual persuasion brilliance on this topic. He starts off every economic discussion with a simple statement “In France, gross salaries are too high, net salaries [workers’ take home pay] are too low”. He will then rattle off measures to keep French companies competitive globally and employing people, by not raising gross salaries. And he will then give a number of measures to raise the net pay for middle class French people, highlighting that “this is 200 euros in your pocket, this is 150 per month” etc etc. By taking the high ground on this issue, and repeatedly emphasizing the main problem, he can float over the other candidates and their specifics. Zemmour is the only one who sees the two edges of the problem, and wants to work to keep to both keep French businesses competitive globally and also to help workers out month to month. 

    The last part of his economics program is linked to his immigration proposals. He has said repeatedly that if we stop paying foreigners’ social benefits, free housing and other government programs, we can use that money to finance tax cuts and special bonuses for the French. By turning the immigration issue from a theoretical one to euros in your pocket, he will help mobilize the middle class French feeling the squeeze of high inflation and tiny salary growth. And the others in the race will have a verydifficult question to answer- would they keep paying these benefits to foreigners, especially illegals and asylum seekers? Why do those groups benefit over the French at a time when net salaries are going down? What other measures do you have, madame/monsieur candidate, to help out average French people? 

    Zemmour has the other side constantly make unforced errors

    In a debate with candidate Jean Luc Melenchon, Zemmour showed his incredible ability to jujitsu an opponent, but also to get under their skin to the point where they make huge unforced errors. He repeatedly would agree with Melencon on principle…and then pivot to show that his answer was the more common sense one. Probably the best moment was in a debate on immigration where Zemmour said he was against family reunification for immigration- he thought it set the wrong incentives, led to decreased vetting of problem applicants, and invited in all sorts of people coming to just claim social benefits. Melencon, a devoted lefite, thought this was outrageous- how could Zemmour be anti-family? Why would he want to break up families? Zemmour then paused, and agreed with Melenchon. Breaking up families is brutal. They should stay together. He is all for the proposals of family reunification. But- he wants it done “in their countries”. The segment ended there with a clear victory for Zemmour- they agreed on principles, and he presented the more common sense argument to protect France from those would take advantage of the system.  Melenchon, after this and several other incidents, was clearly getting hot under the collar.

    But it only blew up when a later segment in the debate featured a cop working in one of France’s more specialized police forces. Melenchon has a long program on defunding the police which he presented in this segment. The cop calmly responded why this was a bad idea and how many innocent people would be hurt, as his police force is the only one to reply late at night , to emergencies etc. Melenchon was having none of it. After some back and forth, he rose from his chair and screamed at the cop: “When I am elected President, you will be working for me. And you will do what I say, because you have to obey. And obey you will!”. A poll later on the show’s Twitter feed showed that over 70% of viewers thought Zemmour had won the night, as Melenchon’s anti-cop meltdown made him look terrible and almost dictatorial. 

    Zemmour’s ability to get under opponents’ skin, albeit at a distance in these cases, is helping him to knock out Le Pen and Pecresse as well. 

    Pecresse and the Republicains

    As we pointed out in the last piece, his first target was the poor campaign of Valerie Pecresse, leader of the Republicans party (commonly called LR). Her robotic personality and hopelessly confused messaging makes her the best opponent to knock down.  Zemmour has in several appearances tested out a label of “Madame 8:02pm” – because at 8:02pm of election night, when it’s clear she’s not in the second round, she will call Macron to give her support. He continually calls her a right-wing Macron and just the other face of the establishment. Several prominent party members have abandoned her for Zemmour.  Watching Zemmour’s rise, she decided to relaunch her campaign and to reposition herself away from these labels at an event on February 13th in Paris. 

    Her campaign relaunch was downright confounding. She directly borrowed several terms that had been used thus far only by Zemmour, like “Great Replacement” and “Great Impoverishment”, which she had previously denied as real threats. She even used some of the same anecdotes as Zemmour- praising certain French literary greats, and extolling the cuisine of Burgundy. She had a very stiff presentation of her “New France” platform, which is sounding way more right wing than three months ago. The video, on her channel got 29k views vs 300-500k views of a regular Zemmour video. Now she is hopelessly stuck: if she runs as her previous moderate self, it will confirm the label Zemmour put on her as linked to Macron. As she moves to the right, she soundslike muddled version of Zemmour and a copycat. Neither message is working, and her ability to communicate them is low. Party members keep defecting and her poll numbers keep sinking. 

    In later TV appearances, when challenged that she had last year “she hated that term [the Great Replacement]” she tap-danced. She said she thinks the term is one of hate, of fear, and overblown. But that there are zones in France that are no-go zones which are Islamiziced. And that we need a “police republican reconquest” of these zones. This is just bizarre campaigning – she is taking all of Zemmour’s terms and proposals, even the controversial ones like “Great Replacement” and “Reconquest”, but then trying to distance herself from them and from Zemmour’s ‘extreme’ language and solutions. This will not work. Zemmour’s complete ownership of the frame and the messaging in this election is forcing her to make difficult decisions, and lose support in doing so. 

    Whereas Zemmour has assembled a host of crisp memorable phrases for his message, Pecresse has none. She is trying to borrow a few terms from Zemmour, but she is at the same time distancing herself from their Zemmour meaning. It really is not clear to a regular LR voter what they are getting.  

    There was a show called “France Dans Les Yeux”, where regular people can ask questions of Presidential candidates in France. On their official page, Pecresse’s appearance two weeks ago garnered 21k views. Zemmour’s appearance had 489k views two days after it was posted. Another similar program, “Mission Coinvaincre”, saw 217k views for Pecresse and 460k for Zemmour on the official channel, and another 640k on his own channel. Are we really supposed to believe she is competitive with Zemmour?

    Le Pen’s Inexplicable Attacks 

    Le Pen’s poll numbers have been in a slide for over a year, which continues on pace. Le Pen’s campaign has recently been wracked by many defections, such as the head of her party in the European Parliament, her deputy, and her spokesperson. All of them have joined  Zemmour, citing his superior organization and his unified message to the right. Her first comment was that the Zemmour campaign was paying people to join- a criticism that lasted only hours before being roundly rejected. Now she is changing her message and trying to stem defections with a harder line against Zemmour. 

    Le Pen has been hitting out at Zemmour on a personal level, saying at first he was “surrounded by dangerous people”. And, she called some Zemmour supporters Neo Nazis. This is a lame attack that backfired. First, for forty years the National Front has been called the same, and she and her father objected. Now she turns around and gives the same criticism to Zemmour. Secondly, if it’s “just a few” it looks minor and something out of Zemmour’s control. Finally, when asked about this in interviews Zemmourpoints out the obvious – what kind of Neo-Nazi would support a Jew for President [Zemmour is Jewish]? That’s the first principle of Nazism!

    In another appearance, she mentioned that “Zemmour was engaging in some kind of new Crusade, and a religious war”….which is just going to draw attention to his party, and any encounter with his message will see that he doesn’t support that at all. Le Pen has no real idea how to stop Zemmour and is grasping at straws. 

    She has tried to water down her message- she is anti-immigration, but her party cannot talk about “The Great Replacement”. They can talk about crime, but cannot explicitly link it to immigration. And on economic issues they have a middle of the road mish-mash. This muddled messaging and crumbling party structure will eventually see her voters migrate to Zemmour. 

    Similar to Pecresse, she has real no slogan, no crisp one-liners that encapsulate her policies, and no negative labels for others that are sticking. The persuasion is poor here and Zemmour will continue to have the upper hand. 

    Fake News a la Francaise

    One theme that has repeatedly come up in this campaign is that the French media is lazy and pathetic. When the American media of either side wants to hit at a Presidential candidate, they bring out the heavy artillery: Swift boat, Birtherism, Clinton Cash, Trump is a Russian Agent!, Access Hollywood tape, Hunter Biden’s Chinese connections etc etc. The French media wants to take out Zemmour, but they are shooting BB guns at him. It’s been quite laughable so far, they have had zero serious attacks or damage against him and keep seeing themselves laughed out of the room. 

    Surely the funniest moment in the campaign thus far came in a segment on LCI, starting at minute 45. In an obvious effort to make Zemmour’s immigration zero policy look inhuman, they profiled an immigrant from Mali who had stopped a terrorist attack and became a naturalized citizen as a result. He lives in a small apartment in Paris’ Right Bank, with plaudits from figures around the world, and a prominently displayed special Quran. We are told he is a proud Frenchman and a good Muslim who prays five times a day. He begins to ask his question, about the role of French Muslims in a Zemmour France, but stumbles. The camera pans to the reporter next to him, who exactly words out the question and asks him to ask it again. Clearly not sure why he is there, he asks it again. Zemmour gives his standard answer and nails the question. Then they go into the next one – “he is scared” about the place of Muslims in French society, and he has to be coached again. Then the anchors spring their not so surprising trap – “He is such a good guy, would you deport someone like him?”. Zemmour essentially throws up his hands and replies “I don’t know this guy or his situation. It’s a matter for the law. If he is a French citizen, I welcome him like any other”. 

    The media’s planned take down just looked pathetic- with a question that was partisan, obviously set up, and coached live on camera. If they want to hurt Zemmour, they are going to need better than this amateur hour stuff. 

    Update on the Hero Narrative

    Zemmour continues to gently push the hero narrative we identified months ago. He has said in every appearance that he is not a politician, and only to chose to run because no one else would do it and because he sees France as being in great danger. He has adopted a tone of a father administering tough love, or a grandfather offering wisdom that the country needs to follow, most particularly in the LCI special. He is running “to save our France” and to “prevent it from becoming a bigger Lebanon in ten years” he repeatedly says. When people knock him for being mean or unfeeling about certain immigrants or groups, he repeatedly has mentioned that a statesman has to see further and think of the people and the country’s destiny. 

    This is great messaging- it is molding Zemmour from a provocative political pundit to the wise reluctant hero who is the only one positioned to save France. The contrast between this message, perfectly articulated by  Zemmour’s masterful French language skills, and the robotic messages and demeanor of the others, is vast. We have not seen recent polling on this, but when even his skeptics on these specials talk about his ‘vehemence’, ‘courage’, and ‘passion’, you know that some level of this is connecting. This narrative is a key to him gaining voters from the center, and so a continual gentle push of this is crucial to winning the second round. 

    Zemmour Versus Macron

    Having stolen their momentum, their deputies, and their voters, Zemmour is solidifying second place in the race as the candidate of the right. He forced the other two right wing candidates into making crucial mistakes and embarrassing themselves, and now the inevitable consequences are here. 

    We wish there were more subtitled or translated content of Zemmour available to English speakers. Watching him run a three hour Q&A session with voters or debate a political opponent is truly a sight to behold. The way he can constantly stay on message, worm out of and reverse any attack, and unexpectedly find ways to hammer his opponents on every issue is at a level far beyond any other candidate in Western politics. And to watch him do it day in day out with zero mistakes and zero deviation off message makes it even more impressive. 

    As the other right-wing candidates crash and burn over the next month, Zemmour will eventually have to focus fully on Macron. He will undoubtedly have some linguistic tricks up his sleeve to deal with him. What new label will he roll out? What new question that puts Macron in a corner will he ask? How quickly can he mobilize Pecresse and Le Pen’s voters against Macron? 

    Another wrinkle to this is that….Macron has still not yet announced he’s running, nor started any serious campaigning. The complacency is astounding. He obviously thinks this is Le Pen 2017 all over again, and he will 60-40 in the second round, no questions asked. He is dramatically underestimating Zemmour and his chances. When Zemmour makes it to the second round, they will have to do a face to face debate. We have repeatedly mentioned that Zemmour is the best TV debater in the world, and he will make a mockery of Macron. Why is Macron not getting prepared for this challenge? 

    The average approval rate for Macron, after a steady recovery the last three years, has rolled over again and is sitting at 40% [black line]. This makes him very vulnerable.

    It will be a quick pivot, but we trust Zemmour to find the right time when the second round is sewn up to fully focus on Macron. The next three weeks should be exciting as Zemmour and team start to produce the heavy artillery against Macron in preparation for the final conflict. 

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    Decoding Politics

    Decoding Politics is an expert with 25 years experience explaining politics around the world.
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    Very interesting article. Let's hope Zemmour wins. Please keep us up to date on his campaign.

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