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Does Le Pen have a chance of winning French presidency?

April 27, 2017 1:46 AM
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Does Le Pen have a chance of winning French presidency?

The opinion polls say no, and conventional wisdom says she hasn't a hope.

Centrist Emmanuel Macron is a long way ahead in the polls - so is there any way far-right leader Marine Le Pen could still pull off a shock victory in France's presidential election on 7 May?

Since his impressive first-round victory on Sunday, Mr Macron is still at least 20 points ahead, which sounds an unassailable lead.

The omens look good for him too. He won 8,657,326 votes on Sunday, almost a million more than his National Front runner-up.

And the polls also suggest many voters from the other main candidates are likely to back him in the second round.

He has strong backing from key political figures: outgoing Socialist President François Hollande and candidate Benoît Hamon on the left and defeated Republican candidate François Fillon and ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy on the right.

So what could go wrong for him? Abstention is the biggest threat, says political scientist Aurélien Preud'homme.

"If there is a very weak turnout for Macron and very strong support for Le Pen, she could go above 50% of the vote," he told the BBC.

Marine Le Pen does not even need to go above 50% in the polls to become president, according to one expert, as long as Macron voters stay away in big enough numbers.

All she needs is to advance a little more in the polls, and this is how she could do it.

"If she gets 42% of the vote, which isn't impossible, and Macron gets 58%, normally she loses the election," physicist and Sciences Po political expert Serge Galam told RMC radio.

"But if 90% of people who said they would vote for Le Pen do it, and at the same time only 65% of people who declared they would vote for Macron actually do it, then it's Marine Le Pen who wins the election with a score of 50.07%."

It is not that the polls are wrong, it is just that they cannot gauge the level of voter apathy in advance. Under Serge Galam's mathematical formula, he gives three examples of how Marine Le Pen can win, where she is candidate "A turnout x" and Emmanuel Macron is "B turnout y" with a Turnout (T).

Whether or not the polls might fail, it is worth pointing out that almost all the polling organisations were uncannily accurate in predicting where the top six candidates would finish.

But Ian Bremmer of risk consultancy Eurasia Group puts the chance of a Le Pen victory at 30%.

"I feel he's going to win but it's not a safe bet. It's significantly about turnout and there are externalities that are very plausible."

One of those external factors, he believes, might be a terrorist attack on a greater scale than the murder of policeman Xavier Jugelé in central Paris three days before the first round. Or perhaps an outbreak of fake news.

It could happen, as the 7 May run-off comes in the middle of a holiday weekend. Why make a special effort to stay home and vote on Sunday when Monday is a public holiday? It could work both ways but the Macron vote is more city-based and more likely to venture away from home.

Then there are the significant groups who cannot bring themselves to back an economic and social liberal in Emmanuel Macron. All of them are attracted to the hashtag #SansMoile7mai (Without me on 7 May).

One is Sens Commun (Common Sense) a socially conservative group opposed to same-sex marriage and adoption. Their leader sees the "political decay" of Mr Macron as no different to the "chaos" offered by Le Pen.

Historically, however, turnout in the second round is as high as 80%, so there would need to be a dramatic decline.

The far-right leader has only a few days to claw back a 20-point deficit but she has hit the ground running since she polled 21.3% on Sunday, well behind her rival on 24%.

She has already stolen the limelight with prime-time interviews two nights running on France's top two TV channels and a dramatic political stunt, upstaging her rival in front of striking workers at Amiens.

By contrast Mr Macron has appeared flat-footed, beginning with a celebration party on Sunday night at a pricey Paris bistro and what sounded like a rebuke from President François Hollande. "We need to be extremely serious and mobilised and not think it's a done deal, because a vote is earned, it's fought for."

But the centrist favourite has begun to hit back and a lot will hang on the TV duel on 3 May. In earlier TV debates Mr Macron performed noticeably better than his National Front rival.

Marine Le Pen has already achieved a record number of votes for her party and is even trying to distance herself from the brand by restyling herself as the people's candidate with ex-banker Emmanuel Macron as a "candidate of the oligarchy".

The key lies with two blocs: the right wing of François Fillon's Republican support base and the radical left who opted for the surprise package of the first round, Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Together the two candidates polled almost 40% of the vote. And Mr Mélenchon refuses to back either candidate, raising the possibility that a section of anti-globalisation voters could find common cause with Marine Le Pen.

Political scientist Aurélien Preud'homme says many on the right too are leaning towards Marine Le Pen and it just depends on whether she can shift the focus during the final days of campaigning to her strongest suit, security and terrorism.

Perhaps it was unsurprising that she was heading for Nice on Thursday for her first big election rally - where a Tunisian inspired by militant Islam killed 86 people on Bastille Day last July.

"What stops the right backing Le Pen is Europe and the euro," says Mr Preud'homme. Most Fillon voters are of a certain age and they're the ones who worry about leaving the euro - it would be very worrying for them."

Marine Le Pen's father Jean-Marie Le Pen has already said she should have adopted a more aggressive campaign style in the manner of Donald Trump.

He overturned a double-digit lead over Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton to win the US election last November.

But she has little time left and may not find enough voters to win over.

It is worth remembering that when she won the first round of elections in six of France's 13 regions in 2015, she looked on course to change the course of French politics. But it never happened and her party was defeated in the second round.


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