In less than 48 hours, French voters will go to the polls for what could prove the most consequential world election of 2022. Alternatively, it could pass by as an extremely predictable outcome, that reinforces the status quo in Europe.
When previewing this last time, I regarded an upset as plausible. Marine Le Pen had closed to within two percentage points in some head-to-head polls against Emmanuel Macron. Single-digit leads were the norm.
Macron momentum across polls and betting
However as this final fortnight has played out, both the polls and signals from Betfair markets have moved clearly towards the incumbent. Macron is now rated 95% likely to win a second term as President, at prohibitive odds of 1.051/20.
In the last 11 polls, Macron's average lead was around 11%. Not the electoral massacre he dished out to Le Pen in 2017, but a clear, convincing lead nonetheless. Unless you fancy Le Pen to pull off an upset that would eclipse even the Brexit and Trump upsets of 2016, the late betting now centres on how far Macron will win by, rather than whether he will do so.
Anti-fascist alliance is coalescing again
So what has happened to turn the race back in his favour? Of course there is never a definitive answer but I would suggest the following. First, the switch to a binary narrative places greater focus on Le Pen. What she stands for. The risks and implications of her winning. For example, France's relationship with the EU and Russia. More simply, 'fascism versus the status quo'.
Second, from a distance it seems like Macron is running a strong campaign. This had the potential to be another Trump v Clinton. Unlike her, though, Macron has been proactive, taking the fight to his critics. Campaigning in the streets, confronting and debating Le Pen supporters. These are great optics.
Third, the scandal narrative has been reversed. To this day, I believe that was critical with Clinton in 2016. In the closing days, Trump stayed out of controversy and was relatively disciplined. Whereas the e-mail scandal that had ruined her approvals for two years suddenly returned to the front pages. The Kremlin-backed social media smear machine was killing her, and they had no response.
Revived Russia links hurt Le Pen
Prior the first round, 'McKinseygate' threatened to do the same. A controversy with a basic kernel of truth, which was being obviously weaponised by Macron's opponents.
However that story has trended down, whereas Le Pen's longstanding financial and political ties to Vladimir Putin have been revived. Macron made a point of that in the last TV debate. Plus the EU's anti-fraud body is now investigating her for embezzling campaign funds.
Furthermore, he has used those populist shocks to warn French voters. It is fair to assume that positivity about Trump or Brexit is mostly restricted to the countries in question. Macron can exploit what most French voters regard as an historic mistake by their British rivals. He can point to neo-nazis on the streets of Charlottesville, empowered and amplified by Trump.
The consequence of all this is that Le Pen does appear to still have a ceiling to her support, below the winning threshold. Realistically, her hopes are now pinned on the 22% who voted for far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melonchon in the first round.
My fear was that substantial numbers of Melonchon voters would switch to Le Pen or, more likely, abstain. Polls are not showing the former trend though and, as the table above illustrates, many headline numbers already account for a high abstention rate. In fact Macron's lead is bigger in the polls that list it.
Left-wing minorities won't swing for Le Pen
Most of these Left voters are minorities, Muslim in particular, and largely disaffected. It stretches credulity to think ethnic minorites will vote for a fascist.
Nevertheless, differential turnout remains a possibility. Macron has made very little attempt to woo the Left and the cost of living further dampens whatever enthusiasm he can muster.
Were we still in a polling environment where the lead was consistently below 5%, differential turnout would be a very real threat. That was my fear a fortnight ago. But now we're seeing a 10% plus poll lead, the task appears far too big for Le Pen.
Could Macron overperform again?
So can we trust these polls? Over the years, they've been pretty consistent when it comes to Le Pen and Macron. However Melenchon significantly outperformed expectations so perhaps his electorate are harder to read.
Note that in 2017, polls understated Macron. In the last eight polls, his average lead was 21%, but he went on to win by a 32% margin. Perhaps that reflects a lag effect regarding the gradual consolidation of the anti-fascist vote, which is being mirrored by his improving polls this time.
If so, there could be mileage in backing the 60-64.99% band in Macron 2nd Round Vote Percentage. Matched as high as 70.069/1 earlier, this option has crashed to just 6.25/1 this morning. My prediction is he will fall just short of that and win by around a 58-42% margin, but taking odds-on about those bands doesn't particularly appeal.
French Presidential Election Winner
Macron Round 2 Vote Percentage
Le Pen Round 2 Vote Percentage