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French election 2022: Can anyone beat President Emmanuel Macron?

Éric Zemmour, now polling second, is proving able to appeal to voters that Marine Le Pen could never reach.

By Ido Vock and Ben Walker

What is the state of the polls?

The first round, on 10 April 2022, is being contested by a wide range of candidates, including several polling within just a few points of one another. Current French president Emmanuel Macron, who was elected in 2017, consistently polls first in the first round at around 26 per cent – well ahead of all competitors. In the second round, which pits the two candidates with the highest first-round scores against each other, he is also winning against most competitors. This is in part because he has proved more successful at holding on to his 2017 electorate than his competitors.

However, while polls had for years suggested a repeat of the 2017 second round – in which Macron defeated far-right leader Marine Le Pen – that now looks less certain. Éric Zemmour, a controversial polemicist with convictions for racial hatred who has not even officially declared that he is running, is now placing second in some polls.

[See also: Éric Zemmour: the “TV-friendly fascist” who thinks he can be France’s next president]

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Where does Éric Zemmour’s support come from?

Zemmour, viewed by many commentators as more extreme than Le Pen, has in a few short months gone from TV commentator and journalist to one of the leading presidential candidates. The former journalist appears to be drawing support from a broader base than Le Pen ever did. The plurality of his support has so far come not from Le Pen’s 2017 base, but from the electorate of François Fillon, the candidate of the centre-right Republicans party at the last election. Zemmour is able to appeal to the Republicans voters in a way Le Pen never has.

Zemmour polls worse among the French young than Le Pen at her lowest, but much better among the old, who make up a larger share of the electorate. Some older voters were put off by the impact her economic policies might have on their savings – a consideration that caused Le Pen to temper her opposition to the euro. Le Pen has rarely got more than 10-12 per cent in first round polls among those over the age of 65. Zemmour is polling 20 per cent.

The as-yet-undeclared candidate has more advantages over his competitors on the centre right. Xavier Bertrand, regional president of the Hauts-de-France council who is running for the centre-right nomination, has substantial support but it is relatively soft: just over half (56 per cent) of his supporters, only, are certain they will back him. This compares with 82 for Le Pen, 80 for Macron and 75 for Zemmour. If Zemmour is already picking up votes from the Bertrand camp, he will be comforted with the knowledge that there are more to come. 

Who will win the next French presidential election?

Judging by the polls as they stand, not a left-winger. The French left has never been so weak. Poll after poll puts the vote of left-wing candidates at a historic low.

The broad left has imploded, with the candidate for the historically powerful Socialist Party, Anne Hidalgo, polling around 5-6 per cent in a recent Ifop-Fiducial poll. The left-winger Jean-Luc Mélenchon and the Green Yannick Jadot do a little better, with 7 and 8 per cent each. Together with a handful of smaller candidates, the left as a whole polls barely a third of the vote. If replicated at the election next April, that would show a more right-wing French electorate than at any point since the Second World War.

However, the Republicans, the traditional party of the right that can trace its lineage back to Charles de Gaulle, is failing to capitalise on that shift away from the left. Instead, it is jostling for third place with, depending on the poll, Le Pen or Zemmour. 

Le Pen polls 16-18 per cent, with Zemmour, at 14 per cent, not far behind in some polls – and with 17 per cent, ahead in others. A candidate of the centre-right Republicans would gain between 11 and 18 per cent of the vote. Together with a few minor candidates, the combined right-wing vote currently stands at almost 50 per cent. If one counts Macron as a candidate of the centre-right, where he has arguably positioned himself, the right-wing vote ticks up to as much as 74 per cent. 

He consistently polls first in the first round, well ahead of all competitors. He is also shown winning in all but a handful of second round matchups. 

Nonetheless, there are signs of trouble for Macron. By tacking right on economic and identity issues, the president has lost voters on the left. In 2017, 88 per cent of Mélenchon voters who turned out in the second round voted Macron. This time, just over half (51 per cent) of first-round Mélenchon voters expect to stay at home for the run-off. Of those who do intend to vote, 57 per cent would choose Macron, whether he is matched against Le Pen or Zemmour.

Can Zemmour maintain his momentum?

There is plenty of media speculation about whether Zemmour’s supporters will stick with him over the long campaign. He has not declared that he is running, or really come up with many concrete policy proposals on the economy, foreign relations or social issues. It is possible that voters will cool to him once he has to come up with a manifesto for government, rather than inflammatory statements on identity and immigration he does not have to put into effect.

Nonetheless, in the space of a few short months since rumours first started building that Zemmour might run, he today commands greater appeal among ageing voters and those from the Republicans right than Le Pen has ever managed to obtain. He is capable of mimicking much of her campaign, and then some. Some polls show him polling more votes than Le Pen in a second-round matchup against Macron, though he would still come away defeated. 

Zemmour’s explicit strategy is uniting the “patriotic bourgeoisie” and the working classes. The holy grail for the far right has always been a union des droites – an alliance between the centre right and far right, which mainstream politicians have largely resisted. No candidate in France’s recent history has managed to reconcile the two but the current polling suggests Zemmour has a better chance of success than any of his predecessors.

[See also: Emmanuel Macron has been exposed as a false liberal idol]

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