Marine Le Pen has established herself, a decade after taking command of her party, as a central figure in French politics. The presidents pass and she is still there: the immovable alternative to politicians and government parties.
With more than a year to go before the 2022 presidential elections, caution is imposed against any prognosis, but several polls indicate that the head of the far-right National Regrouping (RN) party has not stopped cutting distances before the centrist president Emmanuel Macron .
Le Pen still carries considerable disadvantages. His surname, which is that of the best-known ultra lineage in Europe, frightens a large part of the population. No charisma, drag the image of incompetence that was evident in the debate, failed for her, with Emmanuel Macron in the campaign for the presidential elections of 2017.
The RN, mix personalist party and family business and burdened by serious financial problems, just it has a territorial implantation or cadres prepared to govern the second European economy, the only nuclear power in the EU with a seat on the UN Security Council. Its ideology, rooted in radical nationalism and the rejection of immigrants, is not in the majority.
For a long time, there was talk of the glass ceiling of Marine Le Pen, an electoral cap that would prevent her from winning the presidential elections. These elections are held in two rounds. The two most voted candidates in the first are classified for the second. The argument was that, in the second round, all voters opposed to the extreme right would unite to prevent their access to the Elysee Palace. All against Le Pen: it was the so-called republican front.
The republican front worked in 2002, when Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine’s father , lost in the second round of the presidential elections to Jacques Chirac: communists, socialists, centrists, rightists voted en masse for the conservative Chirac to stop Le Pen Sr. Chirac got 82% of the vote compared to 18% for Le Pen.
In 2017, Le Pen the daughter again sneaked into the second round, and obtained 34% of the vote compared to 66% for Macron. The Republican front was beginning to crack.
From the latest polls on the presidential elections of 2022, it is deduced that the union of all against Le Pen may have passed away. If the first round were held today, Le Pen would be first with 26% or 27% of the vote, compared to Macron with 23% or 24%, according to a survey by the Harris Interactive institute for the newspaper L’Opinion .
The poll on the second round has not been published. But Le Parisien revealed that, according to these data, Macron would defeat Le Pen by 52 to 48%. The distance is so close – four points – that, taking into account the margin of error, it would mean that the Elysee Palace is close at hand for right-wing populist nationalism.
The survey company has not confirmed the data, which has not been officially released. Therefore, they must be taken with tweezers. But they confirm a trend. Le Pen has not stopped closing the gap since 2017. Another survey, last June, conducted by the Ifop institute, placed Le Pen 10 points behind Macron, 45% to 55%.
And the RN was the most voted force and defeated Macron’s La República en Marcha (LREM) in the last elections of national scope, the European elections of 2019. Everything can change until the elections, but in French politics it is almost certain that Le Pen will qualify for the second round: the whole political fight is over who will face her, if President Macron or another candidate.
“A year and a half after the elections, all the polls must be approached with prudence”, warns Jean-Yves Camus, director of the Observatory of Political Radicalities at the Jean Jaurès Foundation. “But they prove incontestably that Marine Le Pen would do better in 2022 than in 2017.”
Camus cites two events that may explain why, in the last half year, Le Pen has become so close to Macron in polls. The first is the beheading of high school teacher Samuel Paty on October 16 , which placed the Islamist threat, a favorite subject of the extreme right, at the center of French politics.
“The murder of Samuel Paty shook something in French public opinion, and not just among right-wing voters,” explains Camus. “It considerably affected teachers and officials who sometimes feel unprotected against Islamism.”
The second development that may favor Le Pen is the management of the health crisis, plagued with stumbling and confusion, by Macron and his government. The curious thing in the French case is that, with exceptions, Le Pen has avoided the strident rhetoric of other similar parties such as Vox in Spain or AfD in Germany when opposing.
“He has not joined the conspiracy,” notes Camus, co-author of The extreme right in Europe: Nationalism, xenophobia, hatred . “It’s as if she wanted to give the impression that, when she wants to be president of the Republic, there is no use shouting a lot and loudly.”
Le Pen, who has never been a popular politician, tries to polish a faded image to appear presidential. It is the so-called demonization that began when he assumed command of the National Front. He pushed aside his father, the founder of the FN, and repudiated his antisemitic and xenophobic outbursts.
He claimed the inheritance of General Charles de Gaulle, father of contemporary France and black beast of Jean-Marie Le Pen. And he renamed the party as National Regrouping , to get it out of the ultra corner.
The Frexit proposal – France’s exit from the euro and the EU – has been parked and Marine Le Pen claims the banner of feminism, environmentalism , secularism and those from below before the elites. At the same time, he sees that concepts championed by his party, such as the closure of borders or the repudiation of globalization, have become daily realities with the pandemic, accepted by almost the entire political spectrum.
“If the RN electorate mobilizes well, if Marine Le Pen does not make the mistakes of 2017 again, if Emmanuel Macron does not make the plenary session among all those who three years ago voted for him on the left and right because the balance of the five-year period will be he will judge insufficient ”, says Camus,“ his victory, although it remains unlikely, will be a possibility that must be contemplated ”.