French Election: Macron firm favourite after trading insults with Le Pen in final debate

France elects its new president on Sunday
France elects its new president on Sunday

With three days to go before France elects its new president, Emmanuel Macron has a commanding lead in the betting and the polls. But could Marine Le Pen yet spring a surprise? Max Liu reports.

"Most polls published in midweek put Macron on around 60% and bettors make him 2.6813/8 to take 55-60% of the vote.""

Is Marine Le Pen about to do a Donald Trump and, against the odds and the polls, win the French presidential election? On Betfair, the far right candidate Le Pen is 9.417/2 to win Sunday's second round against firm favourite Emmanuel Macron 1.111/9. That means Macron is a 90% chance to be the next President of France. Most polls published in midweek put him on around 60% of the vote and bettors make him 2.6813/8 to take 55-60% of the vote.

With a lead of 20 points over Le Pen (well beyond the margin of error), and with only three days to go before election day, Macron is surely as comfortable as any candidate could ever hope to be. Perhaps but no politician, and especially not one of the liberal centre, would take victory for granted in the age of Trump and Brexit. There are signs that Sunday's vote could be closer than expected, not least on Betfair where there was a flurry of bets on Le Pen in midweek.

The suspicion lingers that Macron hasn't sealed the deal with French voters and that nobody will vote for him with any real conviction. Sound familiar? We heard the same about Hillary Clinton last November, especially from voters on the left who had supported Bernie Sanders and could muster little enthusiasm for a Clinton presidency, even when Trump was the alternative.

Macron stays calm as Le Pen goes on offensive in final debate

On Wednesday night, in their final debate, Le Pen accused Macron of giving French money and sovereignty away to the European Union. She also reminded voters that Macron was a member of Francois Hollande's deeply unpopular government and dubbed Macron the candidate of the Paris elite. Le Pen's were predictable lines of attack and Macron kept his cool, dismantling Le Pen's economic policies and accusing her of "playing with people's anger." A snap poll afterwards showed that most French voters felt the centrist had out-performed his far-right opponent.

It remains to be seen whether either candidate did enough in the debate to attract any of the 18% of voters who were said to be undecided beforehand. Macron has been struggling to convince the French left, who voted for Jean-Luc Melenchon in round one, to support him. According to a survey published this week, 65% of Melenchon voters will abstain in round two or cast a blank ballot rather than vote for Macron.

Polls indicate that only 50% of people who voted for Francois Fillon in round one will back Macron on Sunday. The rest will abstain or vote for Le Pen. However, these abstentions don't add up to a Le Pen victory. Macron has been the candidate with the momentum throughout this campaign, winning the first round against the expectations of bettors who made Le Pen favourite, and it will be surprising if he isn't victorious in round two.

Turnout could be down

It could be that such a commanding poll lead is unhelpful to Macron at this stage. After all, if voters who feel indifferent towards him do not believe that a Le Pen presidency is a possibility then they might stay at home.

In 2002, when Le Pen's father Jean-Marie reached the second round, the vast majority of France united around President Chirac and 80% turned out. Chirac took more than 82% of the vote but turn out is likely to be lower on Sunday, with 73-76% the favourite at 3.613/5 in an admittedly volatile market.

France's next president will govern a divided country

The coalition of pragmatic centrists who support Macron's En Marche! movement might fracture once their man is in power. A poll published this week shows 64% of Macron voters say they're supporting him merely to stop Le Pen. It will be up to Macron to unite France and the outcome of France's Legislative elections will be vital.

The Republicans are 1.715/7 to take most seats in those elections in June but more alarming is a poll that shows Le Pen taking 50.5% of Sunday's vote in the south of France. That's shocking, an indictment of Hollande, and a sign that turbulent times lie ahead whoever is in the Elysee Palace.


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