The numbers game
An utterly confused and confusing Presidential Election campaign. We began with Fillon-Le Pen-Macron, transmuted into Fillon-Le Pen-Macron-Hamon-Melenchon, followed by a long series of stone bonker certain Le Pen-Macron. Finally, we may well be going to have Le Pen-Macron-Fillon-Melenchon. Those four are consistently getting over 82% of voters’ intentions in polls. During the Vth Republic (58 years and 10 Presidential Elections) there have never been 4 candidates in with a chance two weeks before Election Day.
Waspish Spectator Political Editor, James Forsyth wrote about the 2010 General Election (May 2010): ‘In a campaign, momentum matters. It is, for good or ill, the prism through which the media report things.’ Twice before I’ve prayed in aid ‘The Big Mo’: jamais deux sans trois.
Day 33 included two headlines: ‘It’s all over now’ and ‘Another rock star’. This week would seem to have confirmed those two phenomena in spades. Tuesday’s TV debate hastened the confirmation of Melenchon’s Momentum … and its reverse for Hamon.
Let’s first put out of his (and their) misery both Benoît Hamon and France’s once-ruling Socialist Party. Difficult to imagine a better demonstration of the vote utile than the wholesale flight of votes to Melenchon from Hamon, who has plunged to 9% (or less).
‘Rock star’ Melenchon has made an extraordinary breakthrough. Last month, he progressed steadily from around 10% until he seemed to plateau at around 15% – only twice in March (35 polls in all) did Melenchon exceed 15% [a reminder that OpinionWay and Ifop are both ‘rolling polls’: a third of their sample of 1500 is changed daily, so there’s only a completely new sample after 3 days].
However, in 7 polls since Tuesday’s TV debate Melenchon has reached 17.5% – with two of the latest three giving him 18% … and even 19% in the most recent (level with Fillon).
Fillon has stabilised at c. 19% – with over 80% of ‘his voters’ saying they are certain of their choice. Operation Support Fillon was launched yesterday. First, Sarkozy posted on Facebook that ‘François Fillon is the sole candidate with the experience which enables him to represent and successfully introduce the changes in policies which France needs’. Later in the day Juppé tweeted ‘The world is in turbulence, #France needs an experienced President. F #Fillon has such experience. I confirm my support’. And all Fillon’s classical supporters will doubtless rejoice that their hero ended this excellent day by comparing himself to Vercingetorix – not an Asterix character, but (as Fillon put it) ‘the rebel Gaul who inflicted a rousing defeat on Julius Caesar … who had nevertheless been the favourite according to the opinion polls’.
Macron and Le Pen are still level pegging. Of 21 polls since the 1st TV debate (20 March) no poll has shown a bigger difference than 1.5% between the two, well within the margin of error. Yet this has been accompanied by a steady, slow, dropping away of support. Previously both had been credited with 25%+. Now that support has slipped to below 24% … with the latest (BVA yesterday) showing both on 23%. That poll also has 90% of Le Pen voters saying they’re sure of their choice, but only 60% of Macron’s.
So we may be about to see the extraordinary sight of the 4 leading candidates all polling within the margin of error. The result will surely be decided by those who actually go to vote: turnout is currently seen at 64% for Elabe, 65% for Ifop and 71% for BVA.
For the 2nd round, it seems clear that whoever gets through against Le Pen would beat her by around 60-40, though Fillon’s victory (OpinionWay poll, 7 April) is by only 57%-43%. Other combinations are yet to be tested.
Employment, purchasing power and health/pensions remain the main preoccupations for around 50% of those polled by OpinionWay, with security, terrorism and immigration still the main concerns of c. 40%.
Odoxa has analysed reactions to the candidates on social media, claimed to be a useful precursor to effects on poll numbers. They describe Melenchon as ‘A candidate on the rise, who makes people talk about him and who delights.’ They say he has the most looked-at website, is the N° 1 candidate on You Tube with 270,000 subscribers and is the most ‘liked’ on Facebook.
On Thursday, Macron revealed the names of the first 14 people who would stand as En Marche candidates (in French) in the 577 constituencies that comprise the National Assembly. A well-balanced crew to fight 10 Socialist and 4 Républicain seats : ex-boss of elite police unit, RAID; France 3 TV journalist; sociologist; assistant hospital director; advocate; human resources director and an entrepreneur who organised Hollande’s 2012 digital campaign. Well balanced in all senses except for the fact that – apart from a farmer – they’re all rather upper-middle.
2nd TV debate
A ‘winner’ on the night was T-shirt wearing Trot Poutou (which really does mean ‘kiss’ in French – he’s a Ford worker). Do watch the film to get a flavour of the man and then read his well-rehearsed jibes in English in this New York Times article. Hitting both Fillon and Le Pen hard he got lots of approving social media comment.
Philosopher, former Minister and Fillon fan, Ferry, tweeted sniffily: ‘With scruffy Poutou representing the workers in his undershirt, it’s unsurprising they massively support Le Pen’. BFM TV’s journalist commentators (from Journal de Dimanche and Paris Match), commenting after the debate, said they didn’t like Poutou’s ‘disrespectful’ attitude. Others immediately remarked that but for Poutou’s intervention nothing would’ve been said at all about the ‘scandals’ which they felt was somewhat more serious. So Poutou – with his political Party of all of 2,000 members – may well pick up some 1.5% of the national vote in Round 1.
The actual ‘winner’ of the TV debate was … Melenchon, while Macron didn’t stumble.
Socialist Party RIP
This week’s Economist has an article on ‘France’s disintegrating left. The crack-up. A dreamer, a revolutionary and a centrist split the Socialists.’ Possibly a more instantly comprehensible and all-encompassing a headline, even if not exactly as timely, as mine from all of 69 days ago.
Even the predicted arrival of Hamonist-supporting infantry as powerful as Paris Mayor Hidalgo surely cannot put this particular Humpty together again.