Macron May Prove Doubters Wrong as French Polls Signal Majority

  • President’s party seen posting landslide victory in parliament
  • France votes June 11 and June 18 to elect National Assembly

The Meteoric Rise of France's New President 

French President Emmanuel Macron is set to defy naysayers yet again.

Pollsters project that his Republic on the Move party, known as REM in France, will emerge from Sunday’s first round of legislative elections positioned for a comfortable majority in parliament. A month ago, that prospect looked unlikely. Just as it looked unlikely he’d ever be president when he created his political movement from scratch a year ago.

And yet the 39-year-old president is making a habit of proving the skeptics wrong. His party has been steadily rising in the polls as French public opinion increasingly approves of his first few weeks in office as he set out plans to loosen French labor rules, impose new ethics restrictions on elected officials, and simplify the tax system.

“It looks like he will have an absolute majority and all the tools he needs to get to work,” said Jerome Fourquet, head of the opinion department at pollsters Ifop. “There’s a real dynamic. The French approve of the ethics laws and he was successful on his first diplomatic trips abroad.”

According to Ifop, the percentage of people saying they will vote for Macron’s party in the parliamentary election has risen to 31 percent from 24 percent a month ago. His centrist appeal is eating away at both the Socialist Party and the center-right Republicans, the two parties that have dominated French politics for decades.

For an explainer on the French parliamentary elections, click here

France’s bond spread has almost halved since Macron’s victory in the first round of the presidential election on April 23 signaled the threat of a populist backlash was on the wane. Investors on Thursday were demanding an extra 40 basis points to hold French 10-year government bonds instead of similarly dated German bunds. On April 19, they wanted 75 basis points.

After the second and decisive round of voting June 18, REM and its allies may have more than 375 seats in the 577-member National Assembly, BVA said in its latest poll, well above the 299 needed for a majority. Odoxa said REM will win between 350 and 390 seats, while Ipsos puts the range at 385 to 415.

Those projections suggest Macron may approach the historic majorities of the Fifth Republic -- former President Jacques Chirac’s center-right party won 398 seats in 2002 and 472 in 1993. In practice, a similar result would give Macron even more power. Chirac at least faced a united Socialist party holding most of the rest of the legislature. Macron’s opposition looks set to be split among several parties all facing internal problems after a bruising presidential campaign.

“Previously, everything was based on a right versus left divide, and that has just been shattered,” said Bruno Jeanbart, deputy director of pollsters OpinionWay, who sees the Republicans winning about 100 seats, and the remaining 120 or so seats divvied up between the Socialists, Jean-Luc Melenchon’s far-left France Unbowed, and Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front.

Macron has appealed to Republicans with his calls to liberalize the economy, to Socialists with a relative openness to immigration and cultural tolerance, and to centrists with his strongly pro-European views. His prime minister and finance minister were lured away from the Republicans, his foreign minister is a Socialist, and his cabinet also includes popular figures from the world of sport and television.

His willingness to stand up to U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin have also gone down well in France. Depending on who’s asking, his approval rating is between 45 and 62 percent.

“Macron projects an image that France is back on the international scene, and we are leading again in Europe,” said Ifop’s Fourquet. “That goes across well.”

Ally Under Investigation

That’s not to say he hasn’t had some hiccups. His minister for territorial development Richard Ferrand has been facing a preliminary criminal probe into how his ex-wife and his partner may have benefited from real estate transactions with a mutual insurer Ferrand ran in 2011 before becoming a member of the National Assembly. Macron has stuck by him and Ferrand says no laws were broken.

“The affair has muddied Macron’s clean image, but Macron is lucky that most French had or have no idea who Ferrand is,” said Edouard Lecerf, director of political-opinion research at Kantar Public in Paris. “He’s not seen as a central figure.”

Under France’s two-round system for the parliamentary elections, any candidate with more than 12.5 percent of the vote goes through to the runoff on June 18, so long as no one gets 50 percent at the first attempt. Lecerf says that system may work to the advantage of the centrist Macron, because his candidates may be systematically best placed to scoop up votes from candidates eliminated, whether on the right or the left.

“We want a clear majority to put into effect our program, it’s as simple as that,” spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said Thursday on BFM television. “I’m not going to set exact targets.”

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