Fear and Loathing in Las Élysée: France 2022
After last weekend the EU can finally stop putting off decisions until after the German election and start putting them off until after the French election. Very much on the horizon, voters go to the polls in April 2022 to determine if Emmanuel Macron will win a second term or who his replacement will be.
A brief refresher: The French presidential election uses a two round system. If no candidate wins 50% in the 1st round (and no-one ever does) then the top two progress to a head-to-head ballot two weeks later. In 2017, Macron narrowly beat Marine Le Pen by 24% to 21% in round one, before convincingly winning 66% to 34% in the run-off. The winner serves a five year term.
For over four years polls have suggested a rematch may be on the cards, with Le Pen in a slightly stronger position than last time. Polls often gave her a 1st round lead and suggest she would lose a run-off by only a 55%-45% margin or so.
Over the last few weeks everything has changed. Le Pen, perhaps surprisingly, is being outflanked on the right.
Marine Le Pen has worked hard to detoxify her party’s brand, even renaming it since the last election. But one (wo)man’s detoxification is another man’s watering down, and Éric Zemmour is taking advantage. France’s answer to the radio ‘Shock Jock’, he is best summarised by stating that his (English) Wikipedia page has a section ‘Cases before French jurisdictions’ which runs to 957 words and two convictions for ‘Provocation to racial discrimination’ (one pending appeal). His record also includes outspoken comments on feminism and ‘the gay ideology’.
For months Zemmour has been publicly flirting with running for office, to the point that his weekly show has been shut down as breaching political campaign rules. Over the past few weeks speculation has reached fever pitch and his polling has sky-rocketed at her expense. While Le Pen has been polling over 25% for most of the year, Zemmour dragged her down to just 16% in the latest poll with him on 15% and rising fast. 20% would almost certainly be enough to reach the run-off.
The betting markets have responded, with Le Pen’s odds drifting out (she was barely 2/1 to win for much of 2017, and 4/1 earlier this year) and Zemmour moving to roughly joint 2nd favourite around 8/1*. This is a mistake.
For starters, Zemmour is yet to prove his support has any durability. And Le Pen, having lost support pretty directly to him, is in a good position to recover if he fades. This is further shown by the fact that her 2nd round poll deficit hasn’t worsened even as her 1st round polls have slumped. If she can weather Zemmour’s surge then she remains an underdog with a decent shot.
The same cannot be said of Zemmour. The cordon sanitaire in French politics has locked out far-right candidates before and polls show that Zemmour would almost certainly be its next victim. A recent poll puts him joint last among potential run-off challengers, on merely 35%, and it is hard to see where he could expand his support beyond the base he and Le Pen are fighting over.
As mentioned above, no candidate will win on the 1st round. Without a plausible path to win the run-off, Zemmour’s chance to reach that stage is just flattering to deceive. Le Pen’s odds have become a good trading bet, and people willing to tie up the money for a few months would even find value simply laying Zemmour’s chances. Macron is also arguably underrated (8/11 available at Skybet), given he polls reliable leads against all but one challenger.
*(The bookies have kept Le Pen clear 2nd favourite at 4/1 or so, head to the exchanges if you want to back her)
Pip Moss posts on Political Betting as Quincel. He has bets on Marine Le Pen to be elected at just over 7/1, and bets against Eric Zemmour to be elected laid at 9/1. You can follow him on Twitter at @PipsFunFacts