Is an Upset Possible?
The polls are alarming. First-round polling suggests that the second round will be a repeat of 2017, with Macron facing off against Le Pen, but Le Pen has been closing the gap in second-round polling over the past week, as Macron’s rally-round-the-flag boost following the invasion of Ukraine has subsided. Macron remains what he has always been: the candidate of les premiers de cordée, whose enthusiasm for their man has not wavered. Twenty-five percent of the electorate has supported him through thick and thin. The other 75% have never liked him much and are unlikely to change their minds. To date, it seems that just enough are willing to “hold their noses,” as the phrase goes, and vote for him, just as they voted for Chirac in 2002 to bar the way to Jean-Marie Le Pen. But back then it was 82% of the French who rejected the prospect of a President Le Pen. Today it is 53% according to one poll or 57% according to another.
But could the polls be wrong? Macron evoked this specter at his only campaign rally last Saturday, when he compared the situation to Brexit eve, when polls predicted a comfortable if narrow margin of victory for Remain, or to Nov. 3, 2016, when Hillary Clinton enjoyed what seemed to be a safe margin over Donald Trump. The unthinkable is no longer unthinkable, but it would be no less disastrous for that. I will have a piece in The New Republic on Thursday examining the state of the race more closely.
Meanwhile, let me recommend two articles on French politics: Jake McAuley in the New York Review of Books on the left’s “failure of imagination,” and Elisabeth Zerofsky in the New York Times Magazine on the emerging far right.