Melenchon Poll Rise Casts New Shadow of Risk in French Vote

Updated on
  • Poll shows Melenchon at just one point below Francois Fillon
  • Hamon has repeatedly called on Melenchon to join forces

Melenchon Gains Ground in French Polls

French left-wing candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon’s creeping gain in the polls is adding a new layer of risk to France’s election.

Although the possibility of a second round between Melenchon and the anti-immigration, anti-euro National Front’s Marine Le Pen -- candidates of the extreme left and extreme right -- is remote, his rise casts yet another shadow over what has been one of the most tumultuous and unpredictable election campaigns in recent French history.

Melenchon, who was a distant fifth in the polls until a couple of weeks ago, is now within touching distance of Francois Fillon, currently in third place. According to an Odoxa poll published by Le Point magazine Friday, Melenchon would get 16 percent of the vote in the first round on April 23, just shy of Republican candidate Fillon’s 17 percent. Emmanuel Macron and Le Pen remain the front runners, with 26 percent and 25 percent respectively.

“If Jean-Luc Melenchon’s momentum continues, one could have three or four favorites in a pocket handkerchief, within the margin of error of the polls,” said Yves-Marie Cann, political research director at polling firm Elabe. “And then there will be uncertainty.”

A potential battle of the two populists, coming after the Brexit vote in the U.K. and the election of Donald Trump in the U.S., would add to the turmoil in the markets. Although Melenchon, unlike Le Pen, hasn’t said he will take France out of the European Union, he remains hostile to Europe’s institutions and has said he wants to renegotiate treaties and reform the union.

Gaining Ground

“There is still a long way to go for Jean-Luc Melenchon, and it would take a convergence of stars for him to be in the second round,” said Adelaide Zulfikarpasic, head of pollster BVA Opinion. “A second round Marine Le Pen-Jean-Luc Melenchon is not the preferred or most-probable hypothesis but one can’t exclude it.”

With just three weeks before the first round, Melenchon is gaining ground. According to an Ifop poll published on Sunday by Journal du Dimanche , 44 percent of the French believe he is the best candidate to embody the values of the left versus 31 percent for Socialist Party candidate Benoit Hamon, who has been steadily sliding in the surveys. The same poll shows 46 percent of people think Melenchon has the stature to be president.

Melenchon has refused to join forces with Hamon even though an arithmetic addition of their poll numbers would put the left in the second round of the vote, saying, "my challenge is not to bring together the left; it is to bring together the people." 

Melenchon’s Stance

The oldest of the main candidates, Melenchon, 65, is on his second run for president and has a loyal base attracted by his uncompromising positions against globalism and Western militarism. He was a member of the Socialist Party and even a government minister before quitting the party over what he saw as its pro-business policies. 

In his campaign program, Melenchon says he’d put in place a 100 billion-euro ($107 billion) stimulus package to help tackle poverty, improve public services and protect the environment. He plans 173 billion euros of extra state expenses that he says will generate 190 billion euros of additional revenue, boost growth by more than 2 percentage points from 2018 and create more than 3 million jobs.

Among his populist measures are a plan to raise France’s minimum wage by 15 percent and lower retirement age to 60 years with full pension. He also plans to add 200,000 units of public housing a year. He expects his program to increase public debt as a share of gross domestic product to 95.8 percent, with a plan to reduce it to 87 percent in 2022.

“The left that votes for Melenchon is the left that isn’t interested in governing,” said Family Minister Laurence Rossignol, who’s backing Hamon. “Behind Melenchon is a left that thinks you have to mark out positions and create a power base for tomorrow, a left that’s already planning to be in the opposition,” she said on RTL Radio.

Protest Votes

Nothing annoys Melenchon more than being told he shares many positions with Le Pen. While they both reject EU institutions and free trade, and favor closer ties with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, they differ greatly on issues of immigration and policing.

“Her program will never be applied,” Melenchon said at his meeting on Sunday. “A chair, a table or a bench will be elected before she is.”

Chances are any gains in his poll numbers are likely to come from her supporters because he can lure back former voters of the left who were tempted by the National Front, and not from Socialist candidate Hamon, Elabe’s Cann said.

— With assistance by Gregory Viscusi

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.