The French election is nothing like Brexit or Trump

Praying for a miracle.
Praying for a miracle.
Image: Reuters/Jean-Pierre Amet
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If you read certain British tabloids or American op-eds, you may think that Marine Le Pen is poised for a shocking upset victory in this weekend’s French presidential election. Le Pen is often considered the third stage in the march of right-wing populism, along with Brexit and Donald Trump. She, too, is the underdog. Her triumph against the odds on May 7 would represent yet another denunciation of polls and pundits.

But there’s a big difference between the upcoming vote in France and last year’s Brexit and Trump victories. In France, opinion polls suggest that Le Pen is much further behind than Brexit and Trump were at similar stages in the campaign. To win, Le Pen would have to close an 18-point lead with rival Emmanuel Macron—a swing of several million votes—in just a few days. Pollsters say it can’t be done (link in French).

But what do the pollsters know? Well, in the first round of voting on April 23, the polls were spot on, correctly predicting Macron’s 24% and Le Pen’s 22% share of the vote. Even now, as some polls conflict over the direction of momentum, the level of support for each candidate remains roughly the same—for weeks, in a head-to-head matchup Macron gets around 60% of the vote in every survey.

Of course, a Le Pen win is not impossible. Tonight, Macron and Le Pen face off in a TV debate that will be widely watched. Meanwhile, millions of voters who supported far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first round say they will abstain from voting or cast a blank ballot in this weekend’s runoff election. This could hurt Macron’s chances, but the odds of a Le Pen upset are still so much worse than Brexit and Trump that they can hardly be considered in the same breath.