French presidential election could see far left, far right matchup

Something extraordinary is happening in France, as the presidential election is looming less than two weeks away.  Support for the establishment candidates of the center-left and right is falling away, while a former Trotskyite and the far-right candidates are on the rise.

Centrist Emmanuel Macron and conservative François Fillon were thought at one time to be the frontrunners who would battle it out in the second round of presidential voting next month.  The first round takes place on April 23, where the top two finishers will move on.

But Fillon's campaign has been racked by scandal, and Macron has been closely identified with the current administration of President Hollande.  This has given an opening to a radical far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, whose soak-the-rich platform includes a mandatory 100% tax on French incomes over 360,000 euros.  Melenchon has surged from single digits to draw within just a few points of the lead.

His rise has coincided with the strength being shown by Marine Le Pen, whose National Front party's anti-immigrant, anti-E.U. platform is resonating with many French voters.

The latest polling suggests there is a chance for a Le Pen-Melenchon match-up in May for the presidency.


An Ipsos-Sopra Sterna poll showed independent centrist Emmanuel Macron and Le Pen tied on 22 percent in the April 23 first round, with Melenchon and conservative Francois Fillon on 20 and 19 percent respectively.

That 3 percentage point gap separating the top four was within at least one of poll's margin of error, suggesting the race remains wide open.

Polls have consistently shown Macron would comfortably win the second round should he qualify for the May 7 vote.

But the most striking trend in past days has been the late surge in support for Melenchon, a former Trotskyist who would pull France out of NATO and, like Le Pen, possibly the European Union too.

In the second poll showing the top four within three points of each other, BVA pollsters said: "All scenarios are possible for April 23."

"A second round with Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen remains the most likely hypothesis, but nothing excludes that Francois Fillon or Jean-Luc Melenchon would qualify instead," BVA said.

Polls show that about a third of France's 45.7 million voters might abstain. While some analysts say a higher turnout would favor Macron and Fillon, BVA said the Le Pen and Melenchon could also benefit if young and working class voters cast ballots in high numbers.

Melenchon's progress, and the possibility of a showdown between the founder of the "France Unbowed" party and Le Pen, has alarmed investors. Voter surveys show that, should he reach the second round, Melenchon could win against Fillon or Le Pen.

Le Pen would not win the presidency whoever she faced in the run-off, polls indicate.

Speculation about what would happen in a runoff election is pretty useless when you consider how wrong pollsters have been about support for anti-establishment candidates around the world.  But with the way the French press has absolutely demonized Le Pen, it's surprising she is doing as well as she is. 

If it comes down to a match-up between Le Pen and Melenchon, all bets are off.  The far left is making a comeback across the continent with the rebirth of the Communist party in Eastern Europe and radical leftists rising in Italy, Greece, and Spain.  Many young voters don't know any better, but they realize that the far left is as anti-establishment as candidates like Le Pen. 

Le Pen is also getting a lot of young, working-class voters, so a face-off with Melenchon could very well be about the future of France and what direction its government will take the people.

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