French Election Betting: Macron is no certainty

This article first appeared at betting.betfair on April 13th 2021

One year today, the world will be digesting the first round results of the French Presidential Election and preparing for the decisive, two-way run-off. If the current projections prove accurate, we are set for another divisive culture war with enormous implications. I expect Macron v Le Pen would also be the biggest political market since Biden v Trump.

Betting projects a repeat of 2017

That head-to-head is very much the signal from Betfair markets – a re-run of 2017, when Macron won by a huge 66/34 margin. That result was interpreted as a resounding rejection of the far-right, in the wake of Trump’s victory in the States. European moderates breathed a sigh of relief when he was defeated last November but this election campaign will demonstrate that fascism remains in vogue.

Marine Le Pen nearly doubled her father’s share when runner-up in 2002, but the fundamental dynamic was repeated. Opponents of all stripes united around the moderate to defeat a common enemy, leaving the impression that there was a permanent anti-fascist majority in France. That assumption, however, is increasingly less clear.

Polls much closer this time

Recent polls of that likely head-to-head run-off show Macron around 8% up. Less than a quarter of his advantage in 2017, but still a pretty strong position for an incumbent, one year out, against a candidate whom it is easy to marshal tactical support against.

That explains why he’s odds-on at [1.8] to win a second term and she is a [4.2] chance despite consistently leading first round polls. Such is the reliability of her support, Le Pen is a mere [1.17] to make the final-two, compared to [1.36] for Macron.

No doubt, the incumbent is by far the likeliest winner but with so much yet to play out, a bet at odds-on makes no appeal. After all, remember what happened in 2017.

2017 saw incredible drama and swings

At this stage, Macron was around 33/1. He’d announced a plan to form a new party but nobody knew if it would take off. Francois Fillon was even bigger, around 66/1, but would head into election year as odds-on favourite after winning the Republican Primary. The Socialists never looked a threat.

Fillon was subsequently beset by scandal and the party riven over whether to replace him. Amid the sleaze and chaos, the clean, fresh newcomer stormed through the middle. In some respects, it was an upset to match Trump’s achievement.

Macron’s honeymoon was short-lived

Four years on, Macron is now just another politician with a record, who has inevitably alienated parts of the electorate. Within three months, his approval ratings had turned negative and stayed there. Currently, 60% disapprove.

In other countries with different electoral systems, that would imply certain defeat. Much can happen over the course of a year. Scandal, policy failure, reputational damage. He only has 24% to defend, compared to around 16% for the leading named Republican candidate. The swing Macron gained from Fillon’s demise could easily be reversed.

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3 responses to “French Election Betting: Macron is no certainty”

  1. Centrism/triangulation is running out of steam. Populations have a good instinct for fairness, they know that centrist govts aren’t working for them, but as the centrists won’t face it/admit it/fix it, and the social democrats in most western countries have been silenced, it leaves a vacuum for Le Pen/Farage/Bannon to falsely articulate the problems on the populations’ behalf which manifests as nasty cultural nationalism (as they don’t have the social/economic answers either)

    Starmer needs to offer an alternative to the far right or corporate centrism in the UK or he’ll be looking at 25% of the vote.

  2. My 2 cents: Centrism for the sake of it can’t work long term, especially in recessionary eras, unless enacted policies actually improve peoples’ lives. Strong speeches and appearing ‘sensible’ only goes so far. Triangulation (Clinton, Blair, Trudeau, Obama, Macron) runs out of steam with the voters as the policies don’t match the rhetoric.

    I think voters are instinctive as a collective mass, and they can tell when promises aren’t being kept. This leaves a political vacuum – people want reasons for their lives not improving and are then susceptible to ‘the culture wars’ or disengaging from voting entirely. Farage, Trump, Le Pen, Bannon then fill that vacuum with their nationalist nonsense.

    Macron is falling victim to his own record in government. Lately, he’s had to pivot right to try and address the Le Pen culture wars, but performative racism to back up a lack of economic policy is a pretty desperate situation.

  3. I think the suit wearing ‘moderate’ (Blair through Obama to Macron) is an out of date phenomenon. They talk the talk, but ultimately are still beholden to the finance and corporate sector, so they will unravel when economic reality hits for their working class voters… their policies help only a certain section of society. Being pro gay marriage is great, or performatively caring about marginalised communities; but if you’re debasing an economy simultaneously to funnel wealth upwards your voting base is going to eventually dry up as your promises can’t be kept. Or in short, we’re in a time when triangulation needs to step aside and allow true progressive policy makers in, or else it leads us down a dark path (to Trump, Le Pen, Johnson, Orban)

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