The French election’s first round is coming up on Sunday April 10th. Since our last article, when it looked very probable that Zemmour was heading to the second round, the race has been completely upended in several ways.
Zemmour has taken a hit in the polls, declining to third or even fourth in some polls. He was impacted by a confluence of events. The main event was the eruption of the war in Ukraine, which re-sorted the deck politically in France. Cluster 17 is showing him at 11% support now, down from ~17%.
Three simultaneous things hurt Zemmour in the rankings. First, TV clips of his past somewhat pro-Putin comments as a pundit (like “Putin is the aggresse, not the aggressor”) quickly went around major networks. He followed those up by taking what sounded like a nuanced stance by refusing to blanket condemn Putin and Russia for the invasion. While this is not a huge issue in the USA, it is certainly in Europe, given the proximity of France to events in Ukraine and the higher possibility of military involvement. The media labeled him a pro-Putin, or a neutral party who refuses to condemn ‘obvious war crimes’. Zemmour faced a difficult decision to either backpedal from these comments and join the anti-Russia bandwagon, or try to explain them away.
Secondly, Zemmour proposed a solution that NATO stay out of Ukraine and that former President Sarkozy intermediate a peace deal. While Zemmour’s analysis is very logical and backed up by facts, it came across like a lead balloon in an environment where public opinion is overwhelmingly anti-Russia.
Macron enjoyed a brief pop post invasion which hurt the other candidates. The outbreak of war typically sees a shift to the incumbent- “let’s back the leader during times of trouble”. It’s only after a period of failure that the populace wants to dump the failing leader- examples include Russia in 1917, LBJ in 1968, Chamberlain in 1940, etc.
Zemmour had a tough line on not accepting Ukrainian refugees in France, in line with his “Immigration Zero” stance. He also argued that this would set a bad precedent for the future, in that France would just throw its doors open to any and all war refugees. While this is logically consistent, it came across as heartless in a time of need to many voters.
The Ukraine/Russia issue was a rare misstep by Zemmour in the realm of persuasion. While recently he has beefed up his language to be very anti-Putin, his more nuanced earlier stance cost him supporters. And the constant headlines about Ukraine have crowded out his messages on the other issues (inflation, immigration etc) that had been gaining ground since December. The hero narrative we had been noting all along basically ran aground, with Zelensky now crowned the hero of the people.
Social Media Popularity and Pushback
Zemmour’s social media popularity continued unabated in February and March despite the hoopla over Ukraine. But, as nearly always happens to candidates on the right, there came a social media crackdown in early March. The day after Macron announced his candidacy for a second term, dozens of right wing accounts which support Rassemblement National and Zemmour were deleted. YouTube deleted several major Zemmour videos, led by his campaign announcement video that we had profiled in an earlier column. Zemmour’s video views had been going higher as usual, but the totals were dinged twice by the deletions (see data below). But, despite the deletions in mid-March, Zemmour was back to his typical 3m views per week total by the end of March. Social Blade reports 4.2m views for the past thirty days net, so the total is still around 9-10m views net of the deletions.
But even with that hit, Zemmour is still vastly ahead of the other candidates. Including the deletions, he had 7x Macron’s traffic in March. Adding them back, he had roughly 15x Macron’s views and 10x the field combined.
You Tube Data For March
|As of March 28th||Zemmour||Pecresse||Le Pen||Macron|
|Change in March||+23k||n/a||+1.5k||+7k|
|Total Channel Views||54m||628k||6.2m||17.7m|
|Views in March||+9m (adj for deletions)||+158k||+140k||+600k|
Zemmour also held a huge rally at the Trocadero gardens in Paris on March 27th, garnering well over 100k supporters in personand 1m+ views on YouTube. It’s amazing that his one appearance gained more views than the other candidates combined in March, but let’s see what kind of votes that translates to on April 10th.
The Issues Outside of Ukraine
While Ukraine dominated headlines, there was plenty of news on the other issues. Inflation (or purchasing power, as the issue is labelled in France) is now the number one issue for the country. Each candidate has rolled out a plan to help the average French person. Debating the details of these plans occupies substantial amounts of TV time. But crime, immigration, energy policy, and education are all key issues.
We had noted earlier that Zemmour is moving the Overton window steadily further right, and his success continues to ripple through the campaign. His initial focus had been on immigration, and indeed, it worked- Pecresse borrowed the term “The Great Replacement”, and Le Pen continued to keep a hard line stance on immigration, including deporting criminals and illegals. Zemmour has also managed to move the Overton window on the other issues. Macron has rolled out a plan to substantially beef up the police force over the next few years to combat crime. Le Pen’s recent proposals on improving workers’ purchasing power are near exact copies of Zemmour’s proposals.
Perhaps part of Zemmour’s recent dive in the polls is that everyone has copied his views!
Macron Weakening Rapidly, Le Pen Gaining Ground
As we noted earlier, Zemmour lost steam in March, going from the 15-17% range down to 10-11%. His rival Valerie Pecresse, as we predicted earlier, continued to flounder and now sits at 8 to 9% in the polls. The beneficiaries from the Ukraine matter were (initially) President Macron and left wing candidate Jean Luc Melenchon, followed by Marine Le Pen.
In the final two weeks of the campaign though, Macron is rapidly losing steam. His repeated efforts to fix the Ukraine situationwith diplomacy have not worked. In addition, a blooming scandal about Macron hiring McKinsey consultants from his campaign to handle sensitive French government business has produced flak from all sides.
Le Pen has faced campaign problems all year from defections and her poor social media presence. Yet her tough stance on Russia helped her to rise in the polls. In addition, as we have repeatedly pointed out, France has a two round election system. While the right wing candidates all had been clustering at 15% earlier in the election, Le Pen’s breakout is now attracting supporters from other candidates, as she is now increasingly perceived as ‘the candidate of the right’. We will see what kind of vote support that actually generates, but, for now it looks like Le Pen is polling 45% to 48% in simulations of the second round. Her actual second round votes in 2017 were several percentage points lower than the polls, so her 2022 outcome still looks uncertain. But an increasingly weak Macron is definitely vulnerable to a challenge from the right, as we have repeatedly pointed out.
Questions For the First Round
The first round of the election is on April 10th. After that, the top two candidates will hold a run-off on April 24th to determine the winner. There are several questions to focus on after the first round:
- Will Macron’s support hold up, or will it be lower than the polls?
- Le Pen often underperforms her polls, so what kind of voting support will she actually see?
- Zemmour’s immense social media presence suggests a ‘hidden vote’ [vote caché in French] for him – but how big will that actually be?
- How large will the combined vote for the right be (Zemmour+Le Pen+Pecresse), and will it be big enough to guarantee a win over Macron?
- There are several left wing candidates polling below 5%- will left wing voters all go for Melenchon or distribute votes more broadly?
While not likely, as French polling is typically accurate, it is possible that Macron slips enough into the election that he does not actually make the second round. A Le Pen and Melenchon run off- that would shock the world. Another small possibility, similar to the recent Hungarian election, is that ‘hidden vote’ for the right is sizable, and Zemmour’s vote totals end up far higher than thepolls suggest. He would need to go from 11% in polls to probably 20-22% in order to enter the second round. Jean Marie Le Pen generated a surprise of that magnitude in 2002, so it can happen. We acknowledge it’s a long shot, but polling in the past few years globally has been getting less and less accurate, and Zemmour’s social media dominance is impressive. This scenario is not impossible.
France’s 2022 election was initially predicted to be a sleepy rerun of 2017, where Macron beat Le Pen 66 to 34% in the second round. Yet we saw two huge shakeups during the campaign. The first was the rise of Zemmour, who dragged the entire campaign to the right and torpedoed Pecresse’s campaign. He looked good for the second round just six weeks ago. Yet the invasion of Ukraine by Russia hurt Zemmour and saw a surge in support for Le Pen and Melenchon. How the final data sorts out remains to be seen, but this election will be far more competitive than the 2017 election. Will populists add France to their list of European victories? Will the right reclaim the Presidency that has escaped them since 2012? This election has additional consequences: The President of France currently holds the rotating Presidency of the European Union, so the next President of France will be the head of Europe as well.