A lot of commentary at the moment is focusing on the risk of Ms. Le Pen becoming the next French President or the, admittedly small, possibility of Mr. Fillon managing to get to the second round of voting on 7 May against Mr. Macron. In our view, the real surprise of this election would be Mr. Melenchon reaching the second round and even winning the Presidency.
Our recent field study in France flagged surprisingly high support for Melenchon, as well as key weaknesses in Le Pen’s campaign: her supporter base is not wide enough, and her focus on exiting the EU is scaring a lot of voters at this juncture. French voters want a strong leader, that is true. They also want someone to kick start the economy on jobs, or at least provide the perception that she/he will be able to, and a State that will provide protection against the most severe unknowns of life (terrorism, unemployment and sickness) and a level playing field for everyone.
The current opinion polls put Macron and Le Pen neck-and-neck at around 24%, followed by Fillon at 18-19% and Melenchon at close to 17%. With less than two weeks to go to the first round, we believe that the possibility of Melenchon making it to the second round should be taken very seriously, for the following reasons:
- Regardless of whether people like his ideas or not, he is a strong leader and his performance in the debates has outshone the other candidates.
- His bold left-wing views and his strong criticism of the EU appeal to a wide spectrum of voters, including potentially some high income earners, who may decide to hedge their bets by dividing their loyalty between the Presidential elections and the general elections in June
- Macron is the most likely to pass the first round, in our view, because he has a solid support base, at around 25%, plus he is likely to continue to take some votes from Fillon as it is becoming increasingly clear that he does not have enough momentum. That said, Melenchon may be able to continue to take votes from Hamon, as well as the many small “extreme” candidates. As Melenchon continues to gather momentum, we believe that some of those that we going to vote for a less well-known candidate could switch at the last minute to Melenchon, who stands a far better chance of reaching the second round, in our view.
- In the second round, we believe that Melenchon is likely to be able to energise some disillusioned voters, who simply cannot rally behind either Macron (because he is perceived to be too much of a continuation of the current status quo) or Le Pen (because of her legacy, she is not seen as trustworthy by some), but may be willing to mobilise for a candidate who can promise a big break with the past.