Thursday, February 16, 2017

As they round the bend, the leader is ...

Horse-race reporting on elections is no métier for a self-respecting intellectual, but it's that time again, folks, so here is the latest from CEVIPOF:

As expected, Le Pen maintains her lead, but she's not expanding it, despite Fillon's swoon. Macron seems to be picking up most of his lost votes. Mélenchon and Hamon are close, and neither is gaining on the other.

In short, the race is static for the moment. But two major uncertainties hang over the field. The Parquet National Financier has refused to clear Fillon and has signaled that there is enough to keep the investigation going and probably result in eventual charges, perhaps as early as next week. Fillon emerged from his lunch with Sarkozy yesterday with a proposal to reduce the age for treating a criminal as an adult to 16, which is hardly likely to persuade voters that he is once again immaculate. Who knows what deal the two men may have concluded sotto voce? Plan B François Baroin? Who cares? Being designated the choice of both Fillon and Sarkozy would probably be enough to sink Baroin before he surfaces. The only Plan B that makes any sense is Juppé, and it's not clear that he's up for it.

The second major uncertainty is Bayrou, as I discussed the other day. We should be hearing from him soon. And then it's off to the races.

Meanwhile, Macron, in Algeria, characterized "colonization" as a "crime against humanity" and "true barbarism." He was immediately attacked by Fillon and Raffarin, among others. What are we to make of this latest Macron sally? Macron is too intelligent not to know exactly what he's doing. This is his pitch to the left, the token that is meant to redeem him from the charge that he is a heartless neoliberal capable of telling the unemployed that if they want to wear nice suits, they need to work, that young French people need to dream of becoming billionaires, and that the life of an entrepreneur is often more difficult than that of a worker. Yes, he said all those things, comrade, but he also said that colonization was a crime against humanity, so he's all right. And he will have all those right-wing backs up and pummeling him for his divisiveness. It's bold camouflage and typical of Macron: he holds on to the left with symbols while keeping his sponsors happy with substance. He's a cool customer. But it's a risky course, as reflected in the high level of uncertainty among those who say they're for him. They might not stick. One or another of his moves might just be the thing that alienates this soft support.

So this election is far from a done deal. As all observers are hastening to note, the only candidate with solid support is Marine Le Pen. But her solid support accounts for only about 1/4 of the electorate, and the other 3/4 are pretty solidly against her, even if they can't agree on an alternative. So it's not correct to say that if Macron falters, Le Pen is the obvious winner. Everything is still up for grabs.