Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Hamon's Upside Potential?

In a discussion on Facebook yesterday, the question of Hamon's potential to improve his current position arose. He has shown himself to be an able campaigner with an attractive personality, so why should he be counted out at this stage of the race? Even if, as now seems certain, Mélenchon will refuse to join forces with him if Hamon is the candidate, won't some of JLM's voters desert him for Hamon?

The answer, in my view, is that, yes, in fact, some voters who now support la France insoumise will desert to Hamon, who will soon emerge as the stronger of the two candidates. But it won't be enough to put him on a par with Macron, and there will be a stronger dynamic of voters deserting Hamon for the latter. This is a highly speculative analysis, however, and I'm open to counter-arguments.

My reasoning is that Hamon is the candidate of the Socialist frondeurs, who were over-represented in the primary. The frondeurs represented at most 1/3 of the PS deputies and in my view an even smaller proportion of the PS electorate. But most Socialist voters were so dispirited by the failure of the Hollande presidency and the judgment that they had already lost the presidential race, no matter which candidate they chose and before any votes were cast, that they sat out the primary.

Then the Fillon scandal erupted, changing the complexion of the race. Suddenly there was a chance for the left to win, but the PS had already chosen as its candidate someone whom most of its voters would not have chosen to represent them. Macron, even if they don't fully trust him, is closer to their views as well as more likely to win. Even if Hamon succeeds in attracting Mélenchon votes, it won't be enough. So my prediction is that over the next few weeks, JLM declines in the polls, Hamon improves his position slightly, but Macron emerges as the clear favorite of the "left," which I put in scare quotes to indicate that this will be a highly "centrized" left.

Of course this is all assuming that Bayrou decides not to run. We'll know tomorrow at 4:30 Paris time. I think he will say no, but le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît pas, so I don't rule anything out.

Meanwhile, Fillon has watered his wine on health insurance, moving from the significant pare-back he advocated in the primary to a position that borrows a lot from Macron's platform (higher payments for dental work, eyeglasses, etc.), the opposite of his full-on austerity message of a few months ago. This shift was apparently urged on him by Juppéistes in his post-primary entourage. He's also cutting back on the number of civil service jobs he proposes to eliminate. It's a smart move, of course, assuming that his candidacy is still viable--and the Parquet National Financier may have something to say about that.

Meanwhile, Le Pen has visited Lebanon, trying to beef up her international stature. A recent poll shows her with 44% in round 2 if Fillon is her opponent, but this poll was taken with Fillon in the throes of scandal. Should we regard this as a worst-case scenario? Not necessarily. I don't place a lot of faith in French polling, and polls everywhere have been mistaken this year. We know that Trump attracted many people who had not voted in previous elections and were therefore undersampled by pollsters. This could prove to be the case with Le Pen as well. So any poll that shows Le Pen at 45 or above in the second round is grounds for serious worry. We're almost there.

Of course my previous analysis suggests that Macron, not Fillon, will be the opponent in round 2, and against Macron Le Pen scores "only" 42%. A slightly more comfortable margin. But not comfortable enough. Le Pen has broken the 40% ceiling now, so we're in uncharted territory.