French Election Is Macron’s to Lose

Unless some of his rivals unite, the president is almost certain to win reelection.

Emmanuel Macron
French president Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte, leave the Elysée Palace in Paris, July 5 (Elysée/Ghislain Mariette)

France’s presidential election is six months away, and it’s Emmanuel Macron’s to lose.

One in four voters support him wholeheartedly. That’s the support he got in the first voting round of the 2017 election, and it’s the share polls give him now.

Another 25 to 35 percent would prefer Macron over the far-right Marine Le Pen or Éric Zemmour, who are polling in second and third place.

Only a center-right candidate could make the second voting round competitive, with Xavier Bertrand holding the best cards.

Competition on the right

Zemmour has been making headlines, and to be fair his all-but-official candidacy is the first thing to have changed the electoral calculus in four years.

Not because Zemmour could win. The polemicist, who argues crime, feminism, immigration and Islam are destroying French civilization, is toxic to most French voters.

It’s why some rightwingers love him. They complain that Le Pen, who no longer opposes immigration per se, nor advocates a French exit from the European Union, has become too tame.

Both have 17-18 percent support in the polls. Either would lose against Macron. But if they destroy each other, it might just allow a center-right candidate to sneak into second place. That’s the scenario that keeps the lights on in the Elysée Palace at night.

The only man who has rivaled Macron in any survey in four year is Bertrand, the president of Hauts-de-France. He is moderate enough to be acceptable to center-left voters and non-elitist enough to appeal to some of Le Pen’s. (Probably not Zemmour’s, who is alt-right.)

Michel Barnier, the EU’s former Brexit negotiator, and Valérie Pécresse, the businesslike president of Île-de-France, would win 7 to 9 and 10 to 11 percent, respectively, in a first voting round. The few polls that have pitted Macron against Pécresse show the president winning comfortably. I don’t believe Barnier-Macron polls have been taken.

Tragedy of the left

Anne Hidalgo has been a productive mayor of Paris, but she isn’t the savior of the French left. Or not yet. Polls give her 5 percent support, which is less than the hapless Benoît Hamon got the Socialists in 2017.

Yannick Jadot, the Green party candidate, does better with 7 to 9 percent.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the French Jeremy Corbyn, has a committed base of 8 to 11 percent of the country, but far less growth potential.

Arnaud Montebourg is an even worse spoiler candidate. Twice he failed to win the Socialist Party’s nomination. Running as an independent in 2022, he would muster just 2 or 3 percent.

Add up the support of all left-wing candidates, including the Communist Fabien Roussel, and you would have 24 to 30 percent; enough for a single candidate to go up against Macron in the runoff. The tragedy for the left is that the Socialists — the only truly national left-wing party — can’t possibly sit out the presidential race while the egos of Mélenchon and Montebourg are too big for either man to step aside.