Last week the worst kept secret in French politics finally ended, as Eric Zemmour declared he was running for President. The far-right polemicist has raised a crescendo of media coverage, but quietly his polling might already have peaked.
Two months ago, when I first discussed the French election, I argued that Marine Le Pen was a value bet so long as she could hold off Zemmour and (re)unify the French hard right. And in recent weeks, she looks to be getting there.
Zemmour, or less
Zemmour surged in the polls during September, when he went from single figures (if he was even included) to the mid teens during October. His surge, however, was flattered by the quantity of polling by Harris-Interactive. This pollster, the only one to ever put him ahead of Le Pen on a consistent basis, published almost as many polls as all other pollsters combined during October.
Through November the polls have shown Zemmour dropping by several percentage points, comfortably back into 3rd or even 4th place. Even Harris now has him trailing Le Pen, who is picking up some supporters and clear into 2nd place again.
Le Pen has also benefited from a bit of good fortune from the centre-right when Les Republicains held the first round of their primary this week, using a 2 round system identical to the main election.
Xavier Bertrand, former Cabinet Minister and current President of one region of France, was clearly the strongest available candidate in general election polls (and the only person from any party occasionally beating Macron in head to head polling). But when the votes were counted he was 4th, despite getting 22% of the vote. A razor-thin 26%/25%/24%/22% split (with the balance won by a minor candidate) means he misses the primary run-off. Also eliminated was Michel Barnier (who needs no introduction).
Already lagging in the polls, party members now have to choose between Valerie Pecresse (another regional leader) or Eric Ciotti (a fairly hardline MP seen to be trying to drag the party much more to the right). Members are almost certain to choose Pecresse, who has been endorsed by all defeated candidates, despite her polling barely 10% in the general election (or roughly half what she’d need and 4-5% less than Bertrand was on).
While Pecresse could turn things around, she is probably less well known than her rivals so may grow on the public as they get to know her, this would seem to be a big helping hand to Le Pen’s efforts to be the predominant right-wing candidate. Her path to victory involves unifying the far-right and the centre right, and while still an uphill struggle she will certainly benefit from a less prominent centre-right candidate.
Le Rematch looking more likely
Zemmour appears to have declared officially to try and reverse his fortunes. It might work, but if not then Le Pen will have overcome a major threat to her otherwise comfortable run-off prospects. Macron, incidentally, has been untroubled by all of these developments and continues to poll in the mid-20s with run-off leads over Le Pen around 55:45.
There is time for things to change, but I’d reiterate my recommendation of backing Macron and Le Pen to win (the latter being both value and a decent trading bet). Macron is 1/2 or so, Le Pen is 7/1 or 8/1. Ladbrokes also offer a market on who will reach the run-off, and Le Pen at 1/2 to do so is perhaps a bit of value. Zemmour, even when he polls better in the first round, continues to look highly unelectable in a run-off and remains value to lay if you have the money to tie up for a few months.
Pip Moss posts on Political Betting as Quincel. He has bets on Le Pen winning, Zemmour losing, and has added since his last column bets on Le Pen making the run-off at 11/10. You can follow him on Twitter at @PipsFunFacts
Prices correct as of Friday night