French Presidential Election: Election-day Modeling and Accountability of Polling Estimates

The French are already in polling places ready to elect their first new president in five years, replacing the scandal-marred Socialist incumbent Francois Hollande. If a candidate wins 50% in this round, he or she becomes the next president without a runoff, of which the top-two candidates not receiving 50% partakes, but sans the largest polling error in the history of the industry, that is a statistical impossibility. The polls now show the far-left, center-left, right-wing, and far-right candidates all having a fair shot of making into the runoff election.

The four frontrunners in this campaign are centrist Emmanuel Macron, nationalist conservative Marine Le Pen, globalist conservative Francois Fillon, and neo-communist Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Macron, a former Socialist and economy and finance minister in the Hollande-Valls cabinet who quit both the cabinet and party to create his own political movement En Marche and run as the new party’s presidential candidate. Macron has prolonged lead in the polls, a lead that he has maintained since late February, when he received centrist presidential candidate Francois Bayrou’s endorsement and news agencies reported the right-wing candidate Francois Fillon’s scandals. However, Macron’s lead in the polls never put him in a safe position that he would be assured a runoff spot. Polls also reported the low lever of loyalty among Macron supporters, a sign of potential danger of a strong unexpected surge from either Fillon or Melenchon.

The candidate appearing next in the polls is far-right nationalist conservative Marine Le Pen. Daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of far-right, anti-semitic, and formerly neo-Nazi National Front, Marine Le Pen has taken a moderate approach, such as moderation of language, lifting of anti-semitic policies, toward his father’s signature nationalist movement, but the message remains a nationalist conservative one, including elements such as “France for French” and “force of (French) people”. Le Pen promises a referendum for exiting the European Union were she to be elected, with herself seeing EU as hostile to the French people. After having a prolonged lead over other candidates in first-round polls, Le Pen’s poll numbers are in a slight decline, but still remains in a commanding position to make the runoff due to extraordinary loyalty among her supporters, with her left-leaning, welfare-expanding, message appealing to the white working-class voters.

The next candidate is the right (Les Republicains in French)’s nominee Francois Fillon. A former prime minister in president Sarkozy’s administration, Fillon beat his former boss Sarkozy and another former prime minister Alain Juppe in November’s Republican primary. Fillon is the most conservative of the three candidates in the Republican primary, echoing Judeo-Christian values in his campaign messages with a strong social conservative platform, akin to a mainline Southern Republican running for governor in Georgia. Fillon’s poll numbers have declined since Le Canard enchaîné reported Fillon’s wife Penelope Fillon receiving a public salary of EUR 500,000 while doing little work as Francois Fillon’s assistant, but the general public has since forgotten about the incident, allowing Fillon to regain some ground in polls, standing in a weak position for runoff but certainly possible because of a polling error or trend continuation.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon is the candidate for France Insoumise, or Unsubmissive France, a far-left, neo-communist political movement that also echoes nationalist (economic) values and is mildly opposed to European Union, seeing it as an oppressor of liberty, but unlike Le Pen’s national front, Melenchon emphasizes social deregulation and a left-wing economic message, which is perceived as more genuinely pro-worker and commoners than pro-business than Le Pen’s. Melenchon received an unexpected surge recently, beating Socialist’s Hamon to fifth place while taking a solid 18% in the polls with an upward trend. Melenchon has a fair shot of making runoff as a trend continuation, although his chance of entering runoff is not high.

This model estimates the expected vote share of French presidential candidates, adjusted by other poll/election differences in other European countries, and weighted trend continuation in recent first-round polls. Election data in Netherlands, Austria, Romania, Ireland, Spain, Denmark, and the United Kingdom are used to adjust the ideology score.

Country Party Average poll Election result % Difference
Netherlands Party for Freedom (PVV)

21.167

20

5.8

Austria (1st) Freedom Party (FPO)

25.92

35.05

-26

Austria (2nd, Jun)

51.76

49.65

4.2

Austria (2nd, Dec)

51

46.21

10.4

Ireland Irish Renewal (RI)

2.2

2.2

0

Denmark People’s Party (O)

17.94

21.1

-15

United Kingdom UK Independence Party (UKIP)

11.8

12.9

-8.5

Average

-3.6375

Table 1: Difference in far-right support in poll number and election result in Europe

Country Party Average poll Election result % Difference
Netherlands Party for Freedom and Democracy and Christian Democrats (VVD and CDA)

48.4

52

-6.9

Austria (1st) People’s Party (OVP)

10.04

11.12

-9.7

Ireland Fianna Fail and Fine Gael

(FF and FG)

50.2

49.8

0.8

Spain People’s Party (PP)

29.2

33

-11.5

Denmark Venstre (V)

20.46

19.5

4.9

United Kingdom Conservative Party (Tories)

34.8

37.8

-7.9

Average

-5.05

Table 2: Difference in center-right support in poll number and election result in Europe

Country Party Average poll Election result % Difference
Netherlands Democrats 66 and Labor Party and Socialist Party (D66 and PvdA and SP)

41.6

42

-1

Austria (1st) Social Democratic Party and Green Party (SPO and G)

39.52

32.62

21.2

Ireland Labour Party (Lab)

6.2

6.6

-6.1

Spain Socialist Worker’s Party (PSOE)

21.74

22.6

-3.8

Denmark Social Democrats (A)

25.24

26.3

-4

United Kingdom Labour Party and Liberal Democrats (Lab and LD)

41

39.3

4.3

Average

1.76666666666667

Table 3: Difference in center-left support in poll number and election result in Europe

Country Party Average poll Election result % Difference
Netherlands Green Left Party (GL)

17.2

14

22.9

Ireland Sinn Fein (SF)

16

13.8

15.9

Spain Unidos Podemos (UP)

25.2

21.2

18.9

Denmark Socialist People’s Party (F)

17.94

21.1

-15

United Kingdom Green Party (Green)

5.8

3.8

52.6

Average

15.28

Table 4: Difference in far-left support in poll number and election result in Europe

Source: Linked Wikipedia

As evidenced in the previous tables, polls are most likely to underestimate mainstream right support while emphasizing far-left support, a trend consistent with most nations with accurate polling. The same reasoning can be applied to French elections. Fillon would be underestimated while Melenchon would be overestimated, with Macron and Le Pen receiving no significant difference. In table 5, weighted averaged polling numbers are shown.

Candidate Late April Mid April Early April Unadj Estimate
Macron

12.1

7.722

4.199

24.021

Le Pen

11.25

7.359

4.25

22.859

Fillon

9.6

6.237

3.179

19.016

Melenchon

9.6

6.567

2.601

18.768

Table 5: Unadjusted Estimated Vote Share for each candidate in French election

In this table, we can see that French candidates’ positions have not moved significantly since early April, except Melenchon receiving a major surge while Le Pen declined slightly. The final step of this model is to adjust estimated results with ideological scores calculated in tables 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Candidate Unadjusted Estimate Adjustment Factor Adjusted Estimate
E. Macron

24.021

1.76

23.6

M. Le Pen

22.859

-3.63

23.69

F. Fillon

19.016

-5.05

19.98

J. Mélenchon

18.768

15.28

15.9

Table 6: Unadjusted Estimated Vote Share for each candidate in French election

Table 7 would provide the possibility of each candidate in making runoff. The estimated mark for runoff is 20.79%, after taking average of adjusted estimates.

Candidate Adjusted Estimate Standard Derivation Chance of Making Runoff
E. Macron

23.6

2.787

77.9%

M. Le Pen

23.69

4.197

67.9%

F. Fillon

19.98

2.652

34.3%

J. Mélenchon

15.9

6.357

19.9%

Table 7: Chance for runoff

  To conclude, although the two front-runners have a good chance of entering the runoff (in “strongly-lean” and “slightly-lean” positions, respectively), there is a significant chance that either Emmanuel Macron or Marine Le Pen will not enter the runoff (possibility: 27.1%), or both do not enter the runoff (possibility: 7.2%). Watchers worldwide need to pay close attention and have realistic hopes for their preferred candidates entering runoff. With an electorate this fractured, anything could happen.

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