Stagnating incomes, unemployment above 10 percent, widespread concern on terrorism and national security, frustration with the political class — France appears to have all of the elements in place to be the next country to be shaken by a wave of populism.
It may come as no surprise, then, that the far-right National Front’s Marine Le Pen — who is promising a national referendum on France’s EU membership and a near-complete shutdown on immigration — is coming in at close second in polls for France’s presidential race.
At 24 to 25 percent of votes depending on the scenario, Le Pen trails the front-runner François Fillon by just 2 to 5 percent, according to a December 14 survey by Sciences Po’s political research center Cevipof. (Emmanuel Macron would win 13 to 18 of votes, according to the survey, up from 10 percent a month earlier.)
But even if Le Pen comes in second or were to win the first round of voting, moderate voters are widely expected to rally around a mainstream candidate to block the National Front’s rise — as they did in 2002, when Jacques Chirac took 82 percent of the vote in a run-off against Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie.
“Marine Le Pen has no allies,” said Renaud Dutreil. “She is not able to gather more than 50 percent of voters. Alone she is doomed to be beaten in the second round.”
“’I think that France is more resilient when it comes to the far right,” said BCG’s Olivier Abtan. “We have had Le Pen and the National Front for 30 years now and we have known how to resist it, even in periods of economic difficulty.”
France is a founding member and architect of the European Union and euro zone. As such, a Le Pen win could signal the demise of the European project and send shockwaves through the world economy. “Businesses are not preparing for this,” however, “because it’s not going to happen,” according to BCG’s Olivier Abtan.
Add another ingredient for a populist upset to the list: experts who say it’s impossible.