The maximum spread between the top four candidates in the latest French poll is down to a mere four percentage points!

Turnout makes matters even more difficult to assess. Abstain is in a three-way tie for the most votes at 23%. In the second most recent poll, abstain has 35% of the vote and leads Le Pen by 10.5 percentage points.

Given how wildly off base election polls have been this year, it’s safe to use the words “completely unpredictable” heading into the first round of votes on April 23.

On April 4, all 11 candidates squared off in what is best described as a free-for-all. Eurointelligence offered some interesting comments.

There will be no third TV debate ahead of the first round of the French elections. No time and no appetite. The truth is no one wants another surreal scene like the last one. It had all the hallmarks of a reality show rather than a serious political debate. The six small candidates had a field day, and made the big candidates squirm. Candidates promised the sky, and showed no modesty or restraint. And Jean-Luc Mélenchon all of a sudden appeared moderate, and it is no surprise that he got the most attention on social media.

Thanks to the smaller candidates, Le Pen lost her reputation of being the only radical candidate, writes Françoise Fressoz. About Frexit for example. François Asselineau, credited with 0.5% of the votes, promised to trigger Article 50 if elected. Le Pen’s promise to give herself six months to negotiate with Brussels looks lukewarm by comparison. Asselineau called it a bluff and that she would not get France out of the euro.

Macron’s success relies on the idea that he can get into the second round, and that he will then get all the votes from the left and right to avoid Le Pen. But what if this is not the scenario that will emerge from the first round?

Fresh Polls

I held off on posting that waiting for some polls taken entirely after the debate. Let’s take a look.

Six Possibilities 

  1. Macron – Le Pen
  2. Macron – Fillon
  3. Macron – Mélenchon
  4. Le Pen – Fillon
  5. Le Pen – Mélenchon
  6. Fillon – Mélenchon

Ignoring the order, those are the final pairing possibilities. #1 is the most likely and #6 the least likely, but I struggle to put a definitive order to the rest of the pairings.

I am not even sure if #1 is much better than a 50-50 shot given abstentions, poll volatility, and the propensity of French voters to vote for someone other than who they really want in an attempt to game the system.

One thing is sure: Distrust of mainstream candidates is high. That benefits Macron, Le Pen, and Mélenchon, perhaps in reverse order.

Interesting Pairings

A Le Pen-Mélenchon pairing would be the EU’s worst nightmare. Both are anti-EU and anti-NATO.

Bloomberg reports “Nothing annoys Melenchon more than being told he shares many positions with Le Pen. While they both reject EU institutions and free trade, and favor closer ties with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, they differ greatly on issues of immigration and policing.”

Bloomberg also notes:

In his campaign program, Melenchon says he’d put in place a 100 billion-euro ($107 billion) stimulus package to help tackle poverty, improve public services and protect the environment. He plans 173 billion euros of extra state expenses that he says will generate 190 billion euros of additional revenue, boost growth by more than 2 percentage points from 2018 and create more than 3 million jobs.

Among his populist measures are a plan to raise France’s minimum wage by 15 percent and lower retirement age to 60 years with full pension. He also plans to add 200,000 units of public housing a year. He expects his program to increase public debt as a share of gross domestic product to 95.8 percent, with a plan to reduce it to 87 percent in 2022.

The comparison to Le Pen may irritate Mélenchon, but that’s not what matters. There are more similarities between those two candidates than other candidates.

What matters is who will those voting for Mélenchon favor if it comes down to Macron-Le Pen or Le Pen-Fillon?

Splintered Left

The Left has splintered into pro-EU and anti-EU factions.

Check out mainstream socialist candidate Hamon. He has a mere 8.5% support. If Hamon were to drop out and support Mélenchon, the latter would likely make it to the final round, possibly against Le Pen.

But Hamon is highly unlikely to support Mélenchon precisely because of that possibility and also because Hamon is pro-EU.

Le Pen’s Chances Far Greater Than Most Think

While it is unclear now if Le Pen (or anyone else) makes it to round two, her chances of winning are far greater than most think.

The known anti-EU vote is Le Pen + Mélenchon + Asselineau. That totals 42.5%.  Is there more lurking somewhere else?

And what if the final pairing is Le Pen-Fillon. Will socialists really support Fillon?

I believe they will turn out for Le Pen in spades. Why? Because the odds of Le Pen being able to push through the legislation to take France off the Euro are slim.

Fillon, on the other hand, may be able to force through all kinds of badly needed reforms that the Left despises.

Nightmare Scenarios

  1. For the Left: Le Pen vs. Fillon
  2. For the EU: Le Pen vs. Mélenchon
  3. For the Right: Le Pen vs. Mélenchon

Either Le Pen or Mélenchon as a final winner would be exceptionally distasteful to the EU.

Those are very possible outcomes.

Mélenchon is a social media star like Trump. He also uses video games and holograms. The Financial Times reported Mélenchon was “the first French presidential candidate to do a speech by hologram, enabling him to talk to crowds in Lyon and Paris at the same time.” He has 260,000 You-Tube subscribers.

Instead of just having to worry about Le Pen, the EU can now worry about Mélenchon as well.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock