Optimists backing Macron in French presidential election

Pollsters say voters divided between pro-globalisation and ‘fortress France’ camps

Optimism or pessimism is one of the surest indicators of how a person will vote in the French presidential election, says Jérôme Fourquet of the polling company Ifop.

The French population is divided, roughly 50/50, between optimists and pessimists, Fourquet said at a meeting between France's leading pollsters and the Anglo-American Press Association. But optimists have rallied to the independent centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron, while pessimists identify with Marine Le Pen, the leader of the extreme right-wing Front National (FN).

Macron and Le Pen are expected to lead the first round of voting in just under two weeks time, to face each other in the May 7th runoff.

“We found that 80 per cent of Macron voters self-identify as optimists, while 80 per cent of Le Pen’s electorate said they were pessimists,” Fourquet said.


The fundamental division in French society is no longer between left and right, but between those who advocate openness to Europe and globalisation, and those who want to withdraw into a fortress nation-state. This global trend determined the Brexit vote and Donald Trump's election, Fourquet said. And it will be the main question in the second round of the French presidential election.

The division is largely one of social class. The affluent and educated voted for "remain" in the UK, and for Hillary Clinton in the US. They say they will vote for Macron in France. Workers and the poor and uneducated chose "leave" in the UK, Donald Trump in the US, and will opt for Le Pen.

Optimism or pessimism is an amplifying factor. “If you’re a worker, you’re more likely to vote Le Pen than Macron,” Fourquet explains. “But if you are an optimistic worker, chances are you will vote for Macron. On the other hand, if you earn a good living but you believe the country is being destroyed by immigration and Islam, you’re likely to vote for Le Pen.”

Abstention rate

If the French presidential election took place today, says Edouard Lecerf of the Kantar Public polling company (known as Sofres in France), Macron would win. Kantar was one of only two polling companies that accurately predicted the result of the Brexit referendum.

“But the expiry date of polls is growing shorter and shorter,” Lecerf warns. Past elections had the predictable look of lines and boxes, like a Piet Mondrian painting, he says. This election is more like a Jackson Pollack canvas, made of paint splashed haphazardly.

Up to two-thirds of voters could be forced to make their minds up all over again in the second round, Lecerf says. Abstention is expected to be high in the first round, around 30 per cent. Those who abstain will have to decide if the stakes are high enough to send them to the polls in the second round. There are 11 candideates in the first round. Half of the 70 per cent who participate will have to regroup after their candidate is eliminated.

The winner of the first round will have momentum on his or her side. Polls show that about one third of voters for Francois Fillon, the candidate for the conservative party Les Républicains, who is fourth in polls at present, would switch their votes to Le Pen if she faced Macron in the run-off.  "For Le Pen to cross the 50 per cent mark, she would need two-thirds of LR voters," says Fourquet.

Though “an accident can happen”, Fourquet believes a Le Pen victory is unlikely. He disputes the three-in-a-row theory, whereby her election would logically follow Brexit and Trump. The spread between the leave and remain camps in the Brexit referendum was only four per cent, he notes. The US presidential election was also very close. But French polls show a 20-point spread between Macron and Le Pen in a two-way race.

In another colourful analogy, Lecerf compares Macron to the egg yolk used to emulsify the otherwise incompatible ingredients of oil and vinegar in mayonnaise. “Macron is bringing together left and right, oil and vinegar. You have to beat them constantly with an egg yolk to mix them. If you don’t get the quantities right, it’s spoiled in an instant.”

Macron has titled his manifesto "Revolution," leading Lecerf to compare the French candidate to the late chairman Mao Zedong. Macron's movement En Marche! is equivalent to Mao's Long March, he jokes. "Mao said that revolution is like a bicycle. If it stops, it falls over."

Up to 85 per cent of Le Pen's voters say they are certain to cast their ballot for her, notes Frédéric Micheau of OpinionWay. Seventy per cent of Fillon's voters say they will not change their minds. Although Macron looks likely to win, only 55 per cent of his voters have taken a firm decision. "It's one of Macron's weaknesses," Micheau says. "Will his base vote for him on the day?"