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French Election Update: A Gentleman’s Battle

Picture of Christopher Dembik
Christopher Dembik

Head of Macroeconomic Research

Summary:  The first TV debate of the centre-right primaries for the 2022 French presidential election took place yesterday. There is no clear winner. In 2016, the primaries revealed shark divisions between frontrunners. It did not happen this time. It was a very courteous discussion about the future of France. The former EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and the former Sarkozy minister Xavier Bertrand are better placed to win the primaries, in our view. The name of the winner will be known on 5 December.

French Election Preview published: We have published our preview for the 2022 April presidential election. It gives a broad overview of the current state of French politics and the main reforms which are currently put forward by the lead candidates. See here for the full report.

The race is wide open : There is no clear winner of the first two-hour TV debate of the centre-right primaries for the 2022 French presidential election. There are five candidates : the deputy Eric Ciotti, the former EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, the former Sarkozy ministers Valérie Pécresse and Xavier Bertrand and the doctor and former European deputy Philippe Juvin. In 2016, the primaries revealed shark divisions between frontrunners. It did not happen this time. It was a courteous discussion about the future of France. Purchasing power, security, immigration and foreign policy were the four main talking points. Deep divisions appeared about the use of wind power. Bertrand was the most vocal against it while Barnier favored solar energy and Ciotti nuclear and hydroelectric powers instead. Pécresse and Ciotti tried to seduce former François Fillon’s voters with fiscal conservatism. Ciotti proposed the introduction of a flat tax at 15% and the end of the inheritance tax. Barnier defended his idea of a moratorium on immigration to freeze immigration for three to five years. This raised eyebrows among other contenders as this measure might be unenforceable. Criticisms were concentrated against Emmanuel Macron who is still miles ahead of the pack in all recent polls. Barnier and Bertrand are better placed to win the primaries, in our view. 

Polls are stable : In an Harris Interactive poll released on 9 November, Macron is ahead of the race, at 23%. This is the first poll released since yesterday’s debate. Nothing has really changed. The center consolidates around him who is in a better position to beat the far right candidates. The gap is increasing between the Trump-inspired candidate Eric Zemmour and the far-right leader Marine Le Pen. Voting intentions are at 18% and 15%, respectively. Le Pen moved away from immigration and insecurity as main campaign themes which has destabilized her electoral base. If Bertrand wins the primaries, he would get 14% of votes. Therefore, he would not be qualified for the second round. If Barnier wins the primaries, he would get only 10% of votes. The Left is far behind : 10% for the third man of the 2017 presidential election Jean Luc Mélenchon, 8% for the Green candidate Yannick Jadot and 4% for the Socialist candidate Anne Hidalgo. This election will likely spell the end of the French socialist party. Failed leadership and a focus on culture war (cancel culture, woke movement etc.) and radical messaging on social issues partially explain the Left’s poor performance. The Left has failed in addressing the needs of the coveted median voters. Unless there is an unexpected turn of events, Mélenchon, Jadot and Hidalgo will not play a major role in the presidential election. Based on all polls, no matter whether Zemmour or Le Pen make it to the second round, Macron is re-elected for a five-year mandate until 2027. But it is still early days. We need to remain cautious. 

What to watch now : Three more TV debates of the centre-right primaries will take place between now and the end of the month. The next debate will be on 14 November on the 24-hour rolling news channel BFMTV/RMC. The first round of the primaries will be on 1 and 2 December and the second round on 3 and 4 December. The name of the winner will be known the day after, on 5 December. On another topic, Macron is to speak on national television tonight to give an update on the pandemic situation across the country. The number of daily infections has shot up by nearly 25% in one week, prompting speculation about the introduction of a mandatory third vaccine dose. The re-introduction of restrictions is very unlikely.



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