Why is Emmanuel Macron so high in the opinion polls forty days before the first round of the election? Despite being a complicated issue, it is possible to obtain an overview by considering the two charts and table below.
This analysis has been carried out by Fondation Jean-Jaurès in partnership with the Huffington Post.
The relative positioning of the candidates
The French public were asked to rate each candidate on a scale from 0 to 10 to position them on a left to right scale [[0 being the far left and 10 being the far right]]. This type of activity is conducted frequently and it is often striking to note the subtleties which form an integral part of the opinion polls; they represent how the public perceive a political leader, their career to date, their plans, their statements, their attitude and even their style.
Here are the results from the latest round of the Cevipof / Jean-Jaurès Foundation / Le Monde panel conducted by the IPSOS Institute:
What conclusions can be drawn from these results?
The effect of the presidential primary
Never before have the candidates from both the left and right of government been perceived by the public as such opposites as Benoît Hamon (2.8) and François Fillon (8.1). This is the true impact of these two very unique primary presidential elections. Where a certain degree of electoral rationale prevailed in 2011 (the best candidate was ultimately elected), the current trend mirrors an identity-based logic (votes to the right as their constituents were confident of winning; to the left because they were certain to lose). As a result it is fair to say that the voters in the two primaries preferred François Fillon to Alain Juppé and Benoît Hamon to Manuel Valls – both of the two defeated candidates would probably have been positioned in the moderate centre by the public.
By holding such a preference, the public have selected candidates across each of the territories who, at least from a positioning standpoint, are perceived by the people, to be not far from Marine Le Pen (who is only 1 point further right than Fillon) and Jean-Luc Mélenchon (who is only 1.4 points further left than Benoît Hamon).
Positioning of Emmanuel Macron
Emmanuel Macron’s positioning is 5.2 – that is to say slightly to the right of centre. Arguably, this is the result of his decision to form a movement that is “neither left nor right” and to be a candidate in the presidential election without progressing through the primaries for the “Belle alliance populaire” a left-wing alliance.
By positioning himself in this way he is almost equidistant from the respective PS (French Socialist Party) and LR (French Republican Party) candidates and, more importantly, away from either of the extremes they represent; instead he occupies the central space: crucially there are no other candidates positioned between 3 and 8.
Self-positioning within French society
Many French people broadly question the relevance of the left-right political divide. Despite this however, when asked to position themselves on a left-right political scale, an overwhelming majority of the population (93%) agree to do so.
What conclusions can be drawn from this self-positioning?
Shift to the right
The reality of French society today is reflected in a shift to the right. The shift to the right has moved further recently with an average positioning on the scale of 5.5, never before has it moved to the right – even when you consider the results of November 2014 when the average was 5.4: And if we look further back the political tendency is clearly towards the left.
The space in the centre
The space in the centre – a space typically occupied by the “moderates” – is largely occupied by those focused on the interests of the French people (34% of those polled chose a 4-5-6) whilst mainstream candidates seem disinterested in the centre position.
Benoît Hamon is somewhat isolated with a reduced base of appeal (22.5% of those polled chose 0-1-2-3) and he is competing for votes from a position that is offset from even his own party (positioned at a 3.6 on the political scale by the French public).
François Fillon appeals to a slightly broader base of appeal (36% of those polled chose 7-8-9-10), he is competing for votes from a position he shares with his own party (positioned itself at a 7.9 – therefore perceived by the public to be quite far right).
If we downplay the importance of these two criteria, one could also argue that the self-positioning of the public is equally not the only key factor in determining which way a voter may vote. This is obviously true but the fact remains that this is a critical factor! This could be considered to be the most useful means to predict voter trends.
Voting intentions based on self-positioning
This table may seem complex, but it is straightforward.
Key territories for each candidate; heartland
In each of their respective territories the candidates achieve a consistent poll rating: around 40% for Benoît Hamon (polled at 2-3), Emmanuel Macron (polled at 4-5-6), François Fillon (polled at 7-8) and close to 50% for Jean-Luc Mélenchon (polled at 0-1) and over 60% for Marine Le Pen (polled at 9-10).
In the pivotal marginal territories, we note that:
Benoît Hamon achieves a respectable score on the far left (29% of those polled him at 0 and 1) and similarly he has some appeal to those slightly closer to the centre (25% polled him to the left of centre at 4) but, beyond this, his rating declines to marginal influence.
François Fillon is in a symmetrical situation to Hamon but with slightly lower appeal (24% poll him at 9 and 10 on the far right, 17% position him towards the left of centre at 6) – he attracts nearly zero appeal outside this range (4% consider him to be moderate).
Marine Le Pen achieves a respectable score from the other voting bases (29% position her at 7-8 whilst 20% position her more centrally; which could be viewed as a refuge position for voters who do not wish to commit to either left or right)
Finally, Emmanuel Macron not only has the largest territory but also encompasses the broadest spectrum; 22% of the voters place him at 2-3 on the left whilst 16% place him at 7-8 on the right.
The reasons for Emmanuel Macron’s success can be summarised as follows: he is in the right place at the right time. When we refer to the right place it is because he is aligned politically with a large proportion of the French public. The right time exists because the major political parties have rather surprisingly left the moderate centre open.
The result is not yet certain for him, however (because there is a great deal of voter movement all the way through to election day and this when coupled with low voter turnout and the reality that the right may call upon greater numbers means that no-one can truly anticipate what may happen next to the candidates) but the relative positioning of the candidates according to the self-positioning of the French public places Macron in a strong position.
Given the unique “exceptional” nature of this presidential election, the Jean-Jaurès Foundation has joined with the Huffington Post to shed light on the electoral campaign: to provide balanced coverage on the themes and significant issues as well as the opinion of the French public. The Foundation shall also enlist the help of a number of scholars and well-known personalities to provide analysis and opinion on the first round of voting.
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