Macron’s Old Rival Le Pen Staging a Comeback for French Election

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen is currently standing out as the only serious rival to Emmanuel Macron in the upcoming presidential election.

The National Rally party chief is neck-and-neck with Macron for the first round of the 2022 ballot with up to 26.5%, and would lose by 12 percentage points in the second round, according to an Ipsos poll commissioned by L’Obs and Franceinfo published on Wednesday.

Le Pen lost to Macron in the 2017 presidential election by a margin of 32 percentage points, in what was her second failed attempt to make it to the Elysee palace. Now, with the French leader’s handling of the Covid crisis facing criticism and the country’s traditional two-party system in tatters, she’s trying her luck again.

Macron’s Old Rival Le Pen Staging a Comeback for French Election

The daughter of party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen is tapping into anger over economic inequality and the dominance of Paris over the regions, key drivers of the Yellow Vest protests that spread across the country in 2018. She’s lashed out at Macron for not having closed borders early enough to prevent the arrival of dangerous Covid-19 variants, as well as for the slow start to France’s vaccination campaign.

“Why didn’t the government take advantage of the last lockdown, which required a lot of sacrifices from the French people, to test massively and get ahead of the epidemic,” Le Pen said in a recent interview on Franceinfo television. “The government is on top of nothing.”

Back in 2017, Le Pen lost to Macron with 34% of the votes in the second round, compared to 66% -- after a disastrous performance during a live television debate in which she made factual errors and focused on attacking Macron rather than explaining her plan for the country.

While Le Pen’s electoral base is very different to Macron’s -- her message resonates especially with the unemployed and rural populations while he attracts more highly educated and wealthier pro-Europe voters -- she’s been working to widen her appeal. She reversed from her aim of exiting the euro, condemned anti-Semitism and moved to ban racism within her party.

Shaky Finances

Even so, among big cities in last year’s municipal elections, Le Pen only secured Perpignan in the south. And her National Rally has actually been losing ground, according to an IFOP-Fiducial poll for Sud Radio. A third of the French said they considered the party the main opposition to Macron in the most recent IFOP poll, down from about half in July 2019. Latest available data also show Le Pen party’s finance as shaky.

Ipsos surveyed 1,000 people on the electoral role online Jan 27 and 28. It reviewed seven scenarios based on potential runners in the first round and didn’t give a margin of error. The poll comes after a Harris survey that showed Le Pen leading Macron in the first round by up to 4 points, and Macron leading Le Pen in the second round by the same margin.

There are already seven declared candidates, including Le Pen and far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon. Neither Macron nor Paris Socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo, described by government officials privately as another threat to the president, have publicly said they’d run -- though their teams are working on their platforms.

Meanwhile Macron, broadly a centrist, is also trying to widen his appeal. He’s concentrated on reaching out to right-wing voters who might choose him over Le Pen, pushing through legislation to protect “Republican values” and fight Islamism and terrorism. He’s also pledged to spend “whatever it costs” to save the economy, and workers, from the pandemic, seizing a key platform of the left.

Yet in trying to win support from both sides, Macron’s making himself vulnerable -- the results of the vaccination campaign will be a key barometer of voter sentiment, as well as the outcome of regional elections scheduled for June.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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