Does Le Pen have a chance of becoming France's next president?

By Dr Adrian Beamont
Polls analyst

It’s just days before the final vote to decide who becomes the next French President. The result could radically alter the future of the European Union.

Who will win on Sunday - Emmanuel Macron or Marine Le Pen?

The polls consistently give it to Macron

Current opinion polling has Macron leading Le Pen by about 60-40.

Since the first round vote was held two weeks ago, Macron has lost some ground, but a 20-point lead is very large, and the French polls were accurate in the first round.  Unless there is a late campaign development that greatly damages Macron, he will win the runoff, and the Presidency, on 7 May.

Emmanuel Macron

As US commentator Nate Silver wrote, the French runoff is very different from either the victory of US President Donald Trump, or the vote to “Brexit” in the UK. In both these cases, the favourite was only ahead by a few points; and, in fact, Trump’s challenger Hilary Clinton won the US national popular vote by 2.1 points. In France, Macron leads by about 20 points.

As with Trump in the US, there is a massive split by education level in France.  Nate Silver tweeted that, according to French pollster IFOP, Le Pen wins 50-55% among the two lowest educated categories, but only 18-19% among the two highest educated categories.

The TV debate between Macron and Le Pen on Wednesday 3 May is unlikely to change the contest.  A post-debate snap poll had Macron winning the debate by 63-34.

Other candidates are supporting Macron

Macron has been endorsed by two candidates who together won 26.4% of votes in the first round election, but who failed to progress to the second round: conservative candidate Francois Fillon and Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon. Only hard left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon has not explicitly endorsed Macron (as with the US Presidential election, some on the hard left consider an established centrist candidate (Macron or Clinton) to be as bad as the far right Le Pen or Trump).

Candidates such as Le Pen are polarising; people either love them and will vote for them over all others, or they detest them and will vote for almost any other candidate. This explains why Macron is gaining much more from supporters of candidates eliminated in the first round than Le Pen.

Low turnout will probably favour Le Pen

Macron is easily winning among supporters of the three eliminated candidates who won over 5% in the first round.  However, a high abstention rate among these supporters would damage Macron, though he would still be very likely to win.

According to polling, just under 40% of Mélenchon’s supporters say they will abstain.  About 25% of Fillon’s supporters and 20% of Hamon’s supporters also say they will abstain.

When we’ll know the result

Voting booths in France close in the early hours of the morning Australian Eastern Standard time on Monday 8 May. Projections using early counts will be released at 4am AEST (8pm Sunday Paris time).

There are only two candidates on the ballot paper on Sunday: Macron and Le Pen.

In the first round of the French Presidential election held on 23 April, Macron won 24.0% of the vote, followed by Le Pen on 21.3%, Fillon on 20.0% and Mélenchon on 19.6%. The top two vote winners, Macron and Le Pen, consequently qualified for the runoff.

The first round result was deeply disappointing for the established French political parties. Dire ratings for incumbent Socialist President Francois Hollande should have made Fillon a clear favourite, but he flopped, largely due to allegations (which he has denied) that he had given government money to his wife and children for work they did not do.

A 6.4% vote share for the Socialist candidate was dreadful, but at least Hamon’s vote was higher than the 5% needed for government reimbursement of election expenses.

Le Pen Image credit: Wikipedia. Macron image credit: World Economic Forum/Flickr


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