Is Emmanuel Macron The Wrong Candidate To Beat Marine Le Pen?
IS MACRON TALKING TO THE MOST WELL-OFFS?
Between 200 and 300,000 French nationals currently live in Britain. With Brexit looming, they are all very interested in knowing the views of the only pro-Europe candidate on issues that are directly related to them and that touch them, such as the Brexit negotiations and more urgently the tricky situation regarding their residency rights in the UK, their continuous access to employment, education, healthcare and pensions.
This is certainly not Mr Macron’s number one priorities, but to the French expats living in Britain with their families and children (as for other EU nationals), it is a worry that has not seemed to be going anywhere since 23 June 2016. Mr Macron and the other candidates to the French Presidency can ignore it. Unfortunately, they can’t.
The 39-year-old candidate did give a speech in London, last February, in which he said that he had asked PM Theresa May to protect the rights of France’s expats. However, he fell short of announcing anything too spectacular to his audience in the lines of: “If I become President, I will unilaterally guaranty the right of all British citizens living in France to remain.” Such an announcement would have certainly forced the British Prime Minister to guaranty the very same rights to the French nationals living in Britain. Instead, Mr Macron urged the expats to return to France “to come back as entrepreneurs, to do business, innovate, create, research, teach.”
The former investment banker at Rothschild was actually trying to attract talents back to France. Though, the talents Mr Macron has in mind are not the French expats working in shops, bakeries, bars, McDonald’s, restaurants, hospitals, as au pairs or freelance teachers. The independent candidate is rather more interested in attracting bankers, talents, researchers, academics and entrepreneurs.
According to the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, however, 26% of EU workers living in the UK work in the food and drink industry, 12% in hospitality and only 6% work in finance. French nationals are therefore more likely to be working in hotels and restaurants (Pret a Manger recently explained that 65% of its workforce comes from EU countries) than they are to be working in the City.
In his speech in Westminster, for example, the politician explained that he had been shocked to hear from a Frenchman he met on his Eurostar train to London that he had set up his business in Britain because he had found it impossible to do so in France. Mr Macron then explained that he wants for “women and men who are willing to create jobs and wealth, who want to change their own lives and that of others, (to) never say ‘I tried to do it in France but it’s better to do it a two-hour Eurostar ride away’. I don’t want to hear that ever again.”
To say that Mr Macron exclusively speaks to the most well-off French expats in Britain certainly is a euphemism. The question is: is he also exclusively speaking to the most well-off in France?
THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN DEFEAT LE PEN?
Emmanuel Macron is benefiting from Centre-Right Francois Fillon’s political car-crash with his judiciary case related to his wife and children’s alleged fake jobs and Socialist Benoit Hamon’s total invisibility. Thanks to many senior politicians and former ministers from both the Left and the Right joining his campaign or officially endorsing him, he is now flirting with qualifying for the second round of the election and tipped to be ahead of the Far-Right candidate Marine Le Pen by the latest opinion polls.
One of his most recent and surprising supporters is Robert Hue, former National Secretary of the French Communist Party (PCF), who announced his decision to endorse Mr Macron on Twitter. “My decision isn’t about giving up on my ideas,” Mr Hue explains, but because “he is the only one who can beat Marine Le Pen in the first round.”
Is being tipped by opinion polls as the only candidate who can defeat Le Pen enough for the voters to choose Emmanuel Macron over her? Should all principles and political ideas be ditched in favour of one individual for the simple reason that they are tipped to beat the extremist Far-Right candidate? Some journalists, politicians and experts would easily portray Emmanuel Macron as today’s d’Artagnan and Marine Le Pen as Milady de Winter, and explain that an “All for one, and one for all” in the first round of this year’s election is the price to pay for France to remain a democracy beyond 7 May 2017.
And Le Pen’s lieutenants have already made it clear that they are happy to face him in the second round of the election. Philippe Olivier, Marine Le Pen’s brother-in-law and close adviser, explained in the French weeklyJournal Du Dimanche this weekend that they “couldn’t dream of a better candidate” for Le Pen to face in the second round. “Macron represents our antithesis: he is a pro-globalisation and pro-Europe ultra-liberal. He represents the post-national politics, whilst we fight for our sovereignty and social protection. The presidential election can be resumed as: either you want the nation or you want the disintegration of the nation.”
ARE OPINION POLLS MISSING SOMETHING?
Opinion polls had predicted a hung parliament Labour/Conservatives in the 2015 British General election, the Conservatives won. Britain was predicted to vote to remain a member of the European Union in 2016, the Brexit negotiations are about to start. Donald Trump was meant to lose the 2016 US Presidential election, he is now in charge of the White House.
An opinion poll is merely the photography of the opinion from a particular sample of the population that we extrapolate and describe as the public opinion. Nothing more.
We could talk about margin of error, moods swing, late swing, shy factor, the fact remains that opinion polls are not accurate and should not be used as a thermometer of the general public opinion as they end up being instrumentalised by dishonest politicians and media.
Since the Brexit referendum, last June, Britain has seen Right-wing tabloids running headlines on how Brexit meant Brexit and how the “will of the people” never seems to change whatever the circumstances (sterling’s collapse, investors losing faith in the British economy, inflation). Opinion polls from the very pollsters that completely missed the Brexit win are now carefully selected by tabloid’s Editors and referred as holy proofs that the British people agree with, and knew that Brexit always meant everything Theresa May wants it to be, as hard as a hard Brexit can be.
So, what’s for Emmanuel Macron and his lead, or joint-lead, in the French opinion polls? When you listen to what the man and the woman in the street say and also read their views on Mr Macron and his plans on social media, you start to see what the opinion polls don’t show: his popularity is somewhat relative. The politician is seen by many voters as “the candidate of the greedy money-grabbing wealthy Left”. Commenting on his own Facebook page and on Twitter, people think that he is “the candidate of the corporations and the establishment”. Some want to remind everyone that “he was a minister of Hollande after all and voting for him would mean continuity”, others remember that “as a minister, he put in place liberal policies”, “He is Hollande’s puppet”, “His promises aren’t worth any more than the 4-goal lead PSG had on Barcelona”. His background does not seem to help him either with comments such as: “He is the candidate of the bankers: he worked for Rothschild”, “He should put on work overalls to find out what life really is like!” or “A banker who talks about social justice, it’s like a priest who talks about sex.”
These harsh words are the direct consequence of what could be described as the violence of online anonymity (in many cases, people do comment using fake profiles, but not always!), but after all, one also usually casts their vote anonymously at the polling station.
ON THE IMPORTANCE OF SOCIAL MEDIA ENGAGEMENT.
The table below shows the average daily engagement (likes, shares, re-tweets and comments) on Facebook and on Twitter accounts related to the French candidates and their political parties, in February 2017. Antoine Bevort, Professor emeritus of Sociology at the prestigious Conservatoire national des arts et métiers (CNAM, National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts) explains that this method was used to successfully predict the election of the Austrian independent candidate Alexander Van der Bellen against the Far-Right Norbert Hofer last December, and both the surprise wins of Francois Fillon in the Centre-Right primaries and Benoit Hamon in the Socialist primaries in France.
In the table, we notice that 7 out of the 14 most engaged destinations (in dark blue) are related to Marine Le Pen and the Far-Right, with Le Pen’s Facebook and Twitter combined data ranking number one with an average of over 63,000 daily engagements. Surprisingly, the second in the ranking is not Emmanuel Macron — like opinion polls would suggest, but Far-Left MEP Jean-Luc Mélenchon with a powerful 46,308 daily engagements. Francois Fillon comes fifth with 30,822 daily engagements, whilst Emmanuel Macron eventually comes seventh with only 19,587 daily engagements.
Conclusion: with an average of over 169,320 daily engagements on social media, the French Far-Right is omnipresent online. They know how to communicate and communicate well. Their message flows through the veins of the French web and nothing is capable to stop it, certainly not Emmanuel Macron and his team at En Marche!
From an online point of view only, we see that the two candidates who interest the French people so much they like and share their posts and videos, re-tweet and post comments about them are the Far-Right Marine Le Pen and the Far-Left Jean-Luc Mélenchon. If we were to use the above data the same way we use opinion polls to extrapolate from a small sample of the population, we could say that, according to social media engagement data, Le Pen will face Mélenchon in the second round of the Presidential election, not Mr Macron.
The method does not tell who will win an election, but it tends to show that politicians with a stronger social media engagement during their campaign somehow fare better in the subsequent election than others who don’t have one.
Could the opinion polls be so wrong that Emmanuel Macron would actually look set to crash out in the first round of the election, unable to deliver on the hopes that he was the only candidate who could prevent Marine Le Pen from becoming President?
WHAT REPUBLICAN FRONT TO DEFEAT LE PEN?
Centre-Right candidate Jacques Chirac faced Far-Right Jean-Marie Le Pen (Marine Le Pen’s father) in a shocking second round of the Presidential election, in 2002. Without hesitation, the politicians on the Left called on their electorate to defeat Le Pen and vote Chirac instead with a Republican front. Millions of people protested in the streets against Le Pen, before Chirac eventually won the biggest ever landslide in a French presidential election with 82.2% of the vote.
What if the opinion polls were right and Emmanuel Macron got to the second round to challenge Marine Le Pen? What would happen next? Would he get the same response as Jacques Chirac, in 2002?
Some principled conservative politicians like Alain Juppé or Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet would take no time to give their support to Mr Macron. But the many hardcore conservatives in Francois Fillon’s entourage, such as Laurent Wauquiez, the future vice-president of Les Républicains, would immediately refuse to support a vote in favour of Emmanuel Macron. This is because they usually consider that voting for the Left or for the Far-Right is the same. To the Republican front, they like to oppose the “ni-ni” (neither-nor), in which the politicians don’t suggest anything to the electorate, except that they should neither vote for the Left, nor for the Far-Right. Basically, stay at home.
Fillon himself has used the “ni-ni” strategy on various occasions in the past. However, when asked again, in 2014, whether, in a Presidential election when the Front National would be in the second round, he would join a Republican front to defeat the Far-Right candidate, he answered yes.
Is Francois Fillon trustworthy? Let’s not forget that we talk here about a man who had announced live on TV, on 26 January, that he would quit the Presidential race if he was to be formally investigated in the alleged fake jobs cases. Fillon is going to be formally investigated on 15 March, he is still in the race and he said he will not quit.
Will Far-Left Jean-Luc Mélenchon call for his voters to help Macron defeat Le Pen? Mélenchon already supported Francois Hollande without condition against former President Nicolas Sarkozy, in 2012. It is doubtful he would want to repeat the same act again without condition, especially because he regards Emmanuel Macron as an ultra-liberal and would certainly not be happy to compromise with him on anything, from his pensions plans to the retirement ages, and other social issues that are absolute red-lines to Mélenchon. Would the threat of Marine Le Pen at the Elysée Palace be enough to convince him, though? Or would he suggest to his voters to stay home?
Only the Socialist Benoit Hamon and his Green allies would nearly certainly call for their electorate to support Mr Macron without any condition, because of the influence Francois Hollande, Manuel Valls and other senior politicians within the Socialist Party to that resolve, and because of their belief in the principle of a Republican front whenever the Far-Right has a chance to win an election.
This quick political analysis, therefore, tends to suggest that if Emmanuel Macron does qualify for the second round of the Presidential election, the opinion polls may be far from right on what the outcome of the second round of the election will be. Because of the current political situation in France, there is absolutely no guarantee whatsoever that Mr Macron could gather enough support on his liberal Centre-Left project to build up a Republican front with the trade unions, the Communists, the Socialists, the Centre and the Right to defeat Marine Le Pen on 7 May.
Even if he were to managed to build up a great “republican coalition” on his name to fight off the Far-Right candidate, the prospect of having to face the fierce Marine Le Pen, an absolute fierce debater with a bagful of alternative facts, in a TV debate just before the second round, would certainly test his fire to an entire new level. She would be perfectly at ease and ready to launch various attacks to convince the remaining lost souls still unsure who they should vote for that Mr Macron does represent the establishment and works for the other parties and for the wealthy elite, which he would hardly be in a position to deny. Although he would try to explain his plans and show how unrealistic and dangerous Le Pen’s policies are, the whole debate would turn around those very claims that she would repeat and repeat for maybe one or two hours, and the damage would be done.
If the online engagement data method is correct, Emmanuel Macron cannot win the Presidential election next May. If the political circumstances don’t change — unless say President Hollande decides to be a candidate at the last minute or Francois Fillon must quit because of his cases, then Emmanuel Macron cannot win the Presidential election next May.
Thus, only one question remains: what if, beyond the hope and the great expectations that lie with his candidacy, Emmanuel Macron was actually the wrong candidate to beat Marine Le Pen?
We have tried to get in touch with Emmanuel Macron for the last three weeks and tried to convince his spokesperson to comment, sadly without success. We have only been told that “his agenda is overloaded.”
(Note: If you would like to republish any of the interviews on a commercial basis, please email us at [email protected])
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J.N. PAQUET is an author, journalist and political writer. He is the editor of PoliticsMeansPolitics.com. His book series on populism and nationalism “The Tip of The Populist Iceberg?” is available in print, eBook and audiobook worldwide.
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(Cover photo by © Markwaters | Dreamstime.com)