French Election Update: The Far Right’s Big Battle
Head of Macroeconomic Research
Summary: The 2022 French presidential election is still far away. However, investors should already get more familiar with a Trump-inspired candidate, the TV columnist Eric Zemmour, who is skyrocketing in recent polls. The momentum is on his side, for now. But we still expect the second round will oppose the outgoing president Emmanuel Macron and the far right leader Marine Le Pen. Ultimately, we see Macron re-elected for a second five-year term, until 2027.
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 disturbing message of the polls : Former Sarkozy minister Xavier Bertrand is not the third man of the election anymore. An IPSOS poll released on 1 October put him in fourth position, at 14% of voting intentions in the first round. In recent months, support for him has been rather stable. Unexpectedly, the TV columnist Eric Zemmour, who is not an official candidate yet, jumped from 10% to 15%. He is only one point behind the far right leader Marine Le Pen. In recent months, she has lost ground. After the June regional elections, she gathered up to 25% of support. Now, she is only at 16%. President Emmanuel Macron is still miles ahead of the pack at 25% against 29% in June. Eric Zemmour is often portrayed as a Trump-inspired candidate. He is a former TV columnist, much more radical than Le Pen on immigration and Islam. Over the weekend, he proposed to end the right to French nationality through birth on French soil and to restrict some state benefits to French citizens. He promotes the « grand remplacement » conspiracy theory which claims that native-born French people will be replaced by Muslim immigrants. A few weeks ago, he was at 10% of voting intentions and he was at 7% in June. The momentum is on his side, for now. He seems to be able to gather support both from the far right, but also from conservative voters who voted for former Sarkozy Prime minister François Fillon in the first round of the 2017 presidential election.
A note of caution : There is no debate, support for Zemmour is on the rise. In an Harris poll released on 28 September, voting intentions for Zemmour reached 13%. This is already a very high score. But we should take the IPSOS poll which put Le Pen and him neck-to-neck with a pinch of salt. The sample size is small : only 680 individuals against around 1,000 in most polls. The margin of error is higher than usual. Macron’s voting intentions are between 20.8% and 27.2%. Zemmour’s voting intentions are between 12.4% and 17.6%. While it is of crucial importance, it has been little mentioned.
But it is still early days : Much can happen until April 2022. In the 1981 presidential election, a famous comedian, Coluche, gathered up to 15% of voting intentions, before ultimately dropping out of the race. The final battle was between the outgoing centre-right president, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, and the leader of the left opposition, the Socialist François Mitterrand. The latter was elected. Perhaps Zemmour will get the needed 500 sponsorships to run for the election*. But the road is long and tortuous. A scandal can quickly happen (see Fillon’s disastrous 2017 presidential campaign). The closer the polls put Zemmour to the second round, the more his competency and his former legal problems will come under scrutiny. Here, he remains vulnerable. He was twice convicted of hate speech, for instance. We think that Zemmour won’t make it to the second round. We see a 60% chance that the second round will be between Macron and Le Pen, with Macron finally being re-elected for a second five-year term until 2027. Le Pen is still in an electoral no-man’s land – able to assemble the 20-odd % needed to reach the run-off – but not the 50% needed to win the presidency.
*To be listed on the first-round ballot in the French presidential election, candidates need to secure a minimum of 500 sponsorships from national or local elected officials from at least 30 different departments or overseas collectivities, with no more than a tenth of these signatories from any single department. This is an extremely difficult and time-consuming task for candidates who are not from the ranks of the largest French political parties.
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