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Marine Le Pen’s chances of an electoral earthquake in France are gaining momentum as Macron loses his bearings

France goes to the polls in 2022, and such is President Emmanuel Macron’s unpopularity that the prospect of a Le Pen victory is being seriously considered, to the extent a risk assessment has been produced by a leading think tank.

With the French presidential elections now less than a year away, when cafes and bars reopen post-Covid, there will be one topic of conversation among customers to dominate all others – the very real possibility that Marine Le Pen could be the next President of the Republic.

So strong is the sense of dread of this nightmare for the French left that one influential think tank has issued a ‘risk assessment’ on what this could mean for the nation. It’s the sort of exercise usually taken to forestall a national disaster like, for instance, an outbreak of an uncontrollable killer virus.

The work by Fondation Jean-Jaurès – named after a French Socialist Party leader from the early 20th century – goes so far as to delve into voter emotions in an effort to understand the rise of Marine Le Pen since her defeat in the 2017 election.

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The researchers found that Le Pen can rely on support in a second round run-off not just from her National Rally fanbase, but from people who simply cannot stand President Emmanuel Macron.

As the Fondation points out, “A majority of the French population is forced to make a choice by default in the second round of the election and to vote for the candidate they prefer, or rather, whom they hate least.”

And as a result they say it is possible that “the second round vote for Marine Le Pen would then not mark an adhesion to her program, but a simple rejection of the candidate who faces her.” 

That’s victory as the lesser of two evils. Not what Macron wants to hear!

The Fondation backs up that claim of animosity towards the incumbent with a wonderfully colourful graph illustrating the “Main emotions felt by the French when they see or listen to Emmanuel Macron”. Strangely, these emotions – anger (28%), shame (18%), disgust (21%) and despair (21%) – match those felt by many teenagers towards their parents.

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The think tank goes even further. Not only does the National Rally stand to benefit from Macron’s unpopularity, but also from those formerly aligned to the Republican right who are no longer deterred by the “cordon sanitaire”. This was a construct introduced by former president Jacques Chirac, who refused to even debate with his 2002 run-off opponent, then National Front Leader Jean-Marie Le Pen because, as he said at the time, “Faced with intolerance and hatred, there is no possible transaction, no possible compromise, no possible debate.”

Since then, the idea of the “cordon” has been used by the Republicans as some sort of invisible power, invoked occasionally to convince any of their wavering followers that however dissatisfied they might be with their lot, the answer did not lie with the Le Pens. Nowadays, its effect has been greatly diminished, not least because the Republican right is a shambles.

In addition to those Republican voters looking for right-wing policies who are swinging towards the National Rally, an increasingly unpopular Macron could lose support to Le Pen due to his own battle for the hearts and minds of the right. Because while he was elected very much as a centrist politician, his actions in office now mean he’s seen as right wing by 30% of French voters who expressed an opinion, according to a recent New Statesman survey. Look to the anti-separatism laws if you want evidence.

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A second New Statesman poll supports the Fondation’s findings with the revelation that 37% of people who voted for Macron in the 2017 run-off say they would now change the way they voted in that second round, logically meaning they would opt for Le Pen.

Bear in mind that while Macron took a whopping 66% of the vote in 2017 – while his run-off opponent took just 34% – if those turncoats had voted as they now wish back then, the daughter of the racist 92-year-old Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of the National Front, would be sitting comfortably in the Élysee Palace today.

While the daughter is a long way from being her estranged father, that idea to many French citizens – whatever their political leaning – may be the cause of ‘les cauchemars terrifiants’. But in a year’s time only a fool would bet against Marine Le Pen making them come true.

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