French opinion polls are best taken with a generous bucket of sel de Guérande but this evening’s drop of a Harris Interactive survey of intentions to vote in the 2022 presidential election might genuinely be described as explosive.
This poll contains the crucial assumption that Xavier Bertrand will emerge as the candidate of the centre-right Les Républicains, but it nevertheless suggests that trends are moving in unpredicted directions. Bertrand is currently only marginally ahead of Eric Zemmour, whose insurgent campaign from the right is starting to profoundly unsettle the conventional wisdom.
If Zemmour, who still hasn’t officially announced his candidacy, continues to climb and Marine Le Pen to decline, something extraordinary might happen. Zemmour might even make it into the second round, besting Bertrand and setting up a contest with Macron that nobody had predicted.
There are 195 days remaining until the first round of voting.
Efforts to cancel and demonise Zemmour are plainly failing. He’s sold 200,000 copies of his new book in a week, even after he was cancelled by his traditional publisher Albin Michel.
He has been banned from appearing on his own nightly TV show by the broadcasting regulator, which appears to have invented a new rule just to silence him. And he’s been physically threatened. Yet he has practically doubled his support in less than a month, from 7 per cent to 13 per cent.
Zemmour is loathed by the bien pensants of Paris and condemned as a rabble-rousing rightist, although his formidable intellect and powerful polemical talents are widely acknowledged. An unashamed defender of French values against Islamic ideology, this son of Algerian Jewish exiles has been convicted on numerous occasions for his attacks on Islam.
He says immigrants are responsible for up to 1,000 violent crimes a day in France. A figure denied by Macron’s Interior Ministry.
I hear that there are now as many as 200 ‘friends’ of Zemmour working for his shadow campaign and this week they rented extensive office space in central Paris. Fundraisers are active not just in France, but in London, Brussels and Geneva.
Marine Le Pen, who had been presumed the inevitable opponent of president Emmanuel Macron, is in free fall. During June she was polling as high as 28 per cent. Her support has collapsed to 16 per cent – awful news for Macron as she was always his preferred opponent. Zemmour is eating her campaign alive.
Macron, who has yet to declare officially that he’s a candidate for re-election, although he’s campaigning the length and breadth of France dispensing public funds like confetti, is stuck at 23 per cent – an uncomfortable score should he have to face a more competent opponent than Le Pen in the second round of voting.
Some of the more excitable French commentators wonder whether the President might fail to get to round two. I think this is probably overblown.
Anne Hidalgo, presumed candidate of the socialist party, is stuck on 7 per cent, well behind Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the hard-left France Insoumise. The left is already demanding that she step aside, claiming Mélenchon could even get to the second round with help from the socialists and greens. Let me predict that this scenario is wildly improbable.
Where does that leave Macron? His opposition seems atomised. The polls, especially those based on hypotheses, are of only limited value. Abstentionism remains arguably the biggest party in France, which makes all forecasts treacherous. The friends of Zemmour suspect however they can mobilise hitherto ‘low-propensity voters’. If that’s true, Macron could find himself with a real challenge from the right.