PARIS — Emmanuel Macron cannot rest quietly yet — Marine Le Pen is getting closer.
A few days before France heads to the polls for the first round of the presidential election, a new survey carried out this week by Harris Interactive shows that the far-right Le Pen could fall only 3 percentage points behind the outgoing leader in the decisive second round. round.
Support for Le Pen has also continued to grow in first-round voting intention surveys over the past two weeks, while Macron has lost ground.
Opinion polls across the board still predict a victory for Macron, with Le Pen trailing the president by an average of 8 percentage points in second-round voting intentions, according to POLITICO’s poll of polls.
But the predicted numbers are still too close for Macron’s comfort just days before the election and reveal just how effective Le Pen’s tactics have been: analysts say the far-right leader has closed the gap thanks to a mix of intelligent messages and relentless on-the-ground campaigning.
FRANCE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTORAL POLL POLLS
For more survey data from across Europe, visit POLITICS Survey of surveys.
And while there has yet to be a single poll projecting a Le Pen victory this time around, having the far-right politician come in second place behind Macron by such a narrow margin would still score. a major shift in the political landscape.
In 2017, Macron triumphed over Le Pen with 66% of the vote in the second round, nearly double the support for Le Pen, who won around 34%. Polls at the time predicted both scores relatively accurately, awarding Macron more than 60% of second-round voting intentions, days before the first round.
Above the fray against on the campaign trail
With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine monopolizing public debate in France over the past month, Macron’s re-election race seemed unstoppable. The president stood out from his rivals as the only candidate with foreign affairs chops and the experience to steer the country through the current crisis.
But there is something Macron hasn’t done enough: campaigning. The president has just started his election campaign and has been accused of using the war in Ukraine to avoid confronting his rival candidates by refusing to take part in traditional televised debates.
While Macron was busy chatting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and meeting world leaders, Le Pen continued his campaign by Deep France (deep France) hammering home issues of daily life such as the price of fuel and people’s purchasing power.
“Le Pen carried out a local campaign, visiting many small towns and villages. His travels received little coverage in the national press but had a big echo in the local media,” said Mathieu Gallard, research director at polling firm Ipsos. “She gave an impression of closeness, which is very important for French voters.”
At the same time, unlike her far-right rival Eric Zemmour, she avoided getting bogged down in a debate over the Ukraine war that might have set her back given her long-standing ties. with Putin.
“I campaigned seriously. I have been in the field for more than six months, I have discussed all the subjects that concern the French”, Le Pen noted in a radio interview on Tuesday. “Others didn’t campaign, it’s a choice,” she added, accusing Macron of not fully participating in the campaign and blaming him for declaring his candidacy at the very last moment.
Macron waited until last month to officially confirm he would stand for re-election, although the opposition accused him of campaigning even before that announcement. Since then he has held a limited number of campaign events, including a four-hour press conference, a visit to Dijon and a large rally in Paris last weekend.
Le Pen’s comeback can also be attributed to his change in storyline from the 2017 campaign.
Instead of focusing on migration and security issues, Le Pen has refined his economic platform and campaigned to lower the cost of living.
“She really broke away from the style of her previous campaigns and her father’s campaigns. She campaigned on purchasing power and not on migration and security,” Gallard said.
Economic issues are by far the main concern of French voters, far more important than the environment or migration, according to polls. This week’s Harris Interactive poll shows that French voters believe Le Pen is more credible than Macron when it comes to securing their purchasing power.
It shows she has come a long way since 2017, when then-candidate Macron cornered Le Pen during a televised debate on economic issues, and her disastrous performance seriously damaged her credibility: she dropped her pressure for France to leave the EU and the euro zone soon after. this.
Instead, she is now campaigning on measures to curb soaring energy prices.
In February, Le Pen presented his economic program to French business leaders at an event with other candidates organized by the business lobby MEDEF. After the event, one of them told POLITICO that Le Pen had performed better than the others (with the exception of Macron, who did not attend the event) and noted that the far-right candidate had sharpened her economic proposals compared to the previous campaign.
Le Pen also succeeded in softening her image, which she tried unsuccessfully for years. She was aided in that effort by likening herself to anti-immigration hardliner Zemmour, who has been convicted three times of inciting hatred and whose past misogynistic comments have come back to haunt him during the campaign. While 65% of French people say they are “worried” for Zemmour, 51% say the same for Le Pen, an Ipsos poll reveals.
And while that doesn’t seem like enough to get him to the Elysee just yet, Le Pen is giving Macron his money’s worth.