France shudders towards election

The last TV debate yesterday evening before the French presidential elections was overshadowed by a presumed terrorist attack on French policemen. Since the four most likely presidential candidates are relatively close in the opinion polls, the latest events add a further element of uncertainty to this election, which has already seen many surprising turns. Suddenly the topic of security and terrorism has been brought to the heart of the campaign, which could come to an early end today. Le Pen and Fillon have cancelled their final appearances planned for today and the black-out period begins on Saturday anyway.

It remains to be seen whether Le Pen or Fillon can benefit from the attacks in the final spurt before the election – considering that security is a central manifesto issue for both the candidates. Although in the past the topic of refugees has boosted the fortunes of the Front National, its right-wing populist leader has so far not been able to derive much political capital from the attacks in France. Le Pen struggled in the latest polls at now just 22%, having lost out to the extreme left-winger Mélenchon. The latter is now going head-to-head with the Republican Fillon in the battle for third place. Considering the margin of statistical error, however, Mélenchon will find it very difficult to catch up with Macron, who is currently the favourite to win the election. Since the beginning of the week the pollsters have consistently put him in first place for the first round of voting. The mobilisation of those voters who are undecided or do not intend to cast their ballot is likely to be of decisive importance for the final outcome. Around one in three eligible voters in France is not planning to take part in the election.

Given Macron’s recent steady lead in the polls, a certain relief could be observed on European capital markets in the final trading days before the first round. Nonetheless, the fitful performance of French bonds to the beat of the polling figures over recent months showed that investors‘ hands were trembling somewhat. The main fear is of a worst-case scenario in which Le Pen and Mélenchon face each other in the final round. A play-off between the populist right-winger and Macron is still the most plausible scenario. The unusually high proportion of non-voters, the increasing popularity of extreme political positions and the previously erratic pre-election campaign create potential for the result to confound the statistical predictions.

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