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Apr 21, 2017

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No more French opinion polls can be released after midnight tonight (8am Saturday in eastern Australia), so there will be a couple more still to come, but the last few have been very stable. Centrist Emmanuel Macron has a narrow but clear lead in first-round voting intention, followed by the far right’s Marine Le Pen, then Republican François Fillon and far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the last two almost level.

Harris Interactive, for example, puts them on 24.5%, 21%, 20% and 19% respectively. Ifop-Fiducial has the same order, but a little better for Le Pen, with 24%, 22.5%, 19.5% and 18.5%. (Wikipedia compiles all the polls here.)

The second round, however, is no contest. Fillon beats Le Pen, Mélenchon beats both of them, and Macron beats all comers, and all by large margins: the closest is Mélenchon/Fillon, 56%-44% (Harris). In the most likely runoff, which seemed to be tightening a couple of weeks ago, Macron has been drawing away; the last twelve polls all put him above 60%.

And thanks to the wonders of the internet, you can compare those numbers with how French opinion polls have performed in the past. For example, here are those from the 2012 election. They were pretty good; Le Pen outperformed expectations a bit, while Mélenchon and Bayrou both underperformed, but the differences are only one or two per cent. In 2007 the error was the other way around; they overstated Le Pen’s support and underestimated Royal and Bayrou – again only by small margins.

The hypothetical polls in 2012 didn’t do so well; they consistently showed François Hollande polling in the mid-50s or better, but in the end he only won with 51.6%. In 2007, however, they were spot on.

So unless some huge last-minute swing happens, or unless something very serious has gone wrong with French polling, this looks like a cakewalk for Macron. The media, of course, hate to admit that any election is ever predictable, in case people stop buying newspapers; even quite sensible pieces on Macron (like this one in the New York Times) convey an unrealistic impression of doubt. Uncertainty sells (not to mention fascism chic).

It’s possible that the overnight shooting in the Champs-Elysées, in which a policeman and his assailant were both killed, and which has led most of the candidates to suspend campaign appearances, will shift some last-minute votes. But it doesn’t look at all like the sort of game-changer that would be needed.

Sportsbet this morning puts Macron at 6-4 on, still remarkably good value. Le Pen is at 3-1, Fillon 4-1 and Mélenchon also not bad value at 16-1. Socialist candidate Benoît Hamon, whose support has largely migrated to Mélenchon in recent weeks, is quoted at the embarrassing odds of 400-1.

So, as I said yesterday, there’s going to be change whatever happens. It’s ironic that Macron, who established his own party to break with the existing system and whose campaign has built around being an agent of change, is now the most “establishment” candidate in the field.

Victory for either Le Pen or Mélenchon would be enormously disruptive, even if (as is likely) they were constrained by lack of a parliamentary majority. Fillon would be a more conventional president, but his platform still promises radical economic change, and he would be in a poor position to build consensus for it. Macron, although he too wants to shake up France’s sclerotic economy, would be the closest thing there is to business as usual.

In any case, it will make the parliamentary election, to follow soon after on 11 and 18 June, more than usually unpredictable. And the fate of Macron’s program will depend on that – provided, that is, he can get safely through the next two weeks.

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