Le Pen won’t win – but that doesn’t matter | Jake Painter
This is one prediction that I may well get wrong. With Marine Le Pen 1% ahead of Macron in an second round run-off opinion poll for the 7th of April (Politico) and only 2% behind in an YouGov poll for the 8th of April. This was all before Le Pen’s convincing second place in the first round run-off, not being far off from first place. Still, I just don’t think this is Le Pen’s election just yet. I feel that Macron will just about be able to rally enough establishment support on his side. Indeed, Macron has already managed to get two Les Républicain heavyweights on his side already; with former Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin and former budget minister Éric Woerth wadding into the centrist fold. As the campaign for the second round progresses: more establishment centre-right figures will most likely follow suite, along with their counterparts on the centre left. Le Pen can count on her own supporters and Zemmours for sure. A good chunk of Les Républicain voters will most likely go to Le Pen as well, along with a fair few left wing voters who are warm to Le Pen’s economic nationalism; but that unease surrounding Le Pen and her party hasn’t worn off enough yet. In the end, the result of the second round will most likely be something like 51%-49% in favour of Macron.
Destiny is on the side of Le Pen though and a deeper dive into the recent YouGov poll will tell us why. Looking at the voting intention by age group for the second round, it is clear Le Pen has won over the youth of France. With 56% of French voters aged between 18-24 intending to vote Le Pen for the second round. In fact, Le Pen wins amongst every single age group apart from those aged 55 and over. Even more eye opening is when it came to the first round voting intention, Zemmour had the support of 34% of 18-24 year olds. This highlights by far the biggest issue Le Pen has faced, that being the legacy of her father, who was and still is very deserving of the far-right label. One of the rare occasions where it is genuinely just. Older voters still have the memory of her father and his 5 runs at the presidency and the unfortunate thing is that Le Pen – who has strove to make National Rally a respectable national populist outfit – is still poisoned by that association. At least with that section of the French electorate.
Now I’m not going to go down the vicious route that some Remain voters went down on and wish death on older voters, but the reality is that this issue will become less and less of a problem for Le Pen. As time goes on, there will be less and less people who remember the National Front of old and only remember Marine Le Pen’s National Rally. Le Pen’s efforts to modernise and refine the parties messaging hasn’t been window dressing either, it has meant that National Rally has been able to branch out of from its hardcore group of supporters and propel Le Pen closer and closer to the presidency. During the 2012 presidential election, Le Pen won 17% of the vote; in 2017 she won 21% of the vote in the first round and 33% in the second round. Many will bemoan that she’s gone too soft on certain issues, namely abandoning her hard Euroscepticism, but it must be borne in mind that France is not the UK where there was that solid 1/3 of the country that were unwavering Brexiteers. Compromises have to be made and Le Pen realises this and that’s why she’s in the second round and not Zemmour.
Le Pen’s time is fast approaching for one other simple reason: the situation will eventually demand it. This is a line of thinking that Marine’s father Jean-Marie Le Pen held, in that there is no need to bend to the will of the mainstream, that the situation will become so dire and obvious to the masses that people will eventually be forced to vote for the Front National/National Rally. I highly doubt that Jean-Marie Le Pen would have ever been able to see this strategy bear fruit, especially with him uttering truly horrific remarks like describing the gas chambers used during the holocaust as a mere “detail of history”. Marine Le Pen on the other hand – with her successful rebranding and reforming of the party – might actually benefit from this situation. Because whatever problems the UK has with integration, multiculturalism, immigration and the likes; the French arguably have it worst off. Yes we may have issues surrounding integration and channel crossings; but we don’t have situations like that in Dijon in 2020 where there’s inter-ethnic gang warfare. Nor are the suburbs of the UK in a constant of tension, with large scale disorder never far away. These issues will only get worst with time and for Le Pen, things will have to get worst in France before her electoral prospects get better; but her reforms of the party will allow her to better exploit the testing situation France finds herself in.
Make no mistake, France is on the precipice of truly ground-breaking change; whether you see that as a good thing or not. One just has to be careful not to lose sight of the bigger picture and to get caught up in the moment.