Le Pen Was No Trump and the French Election Was No Brexit: The Polls Got It Right This Time.

Donald Trump put out a gracious note to Emmanuel Macron on Sunday evening, congratulating him on his win over Marine Le Pen in his bid to claim the French presidency: “Congratulations to Emmanuel Macron on his big win today as the next President of France! I look very much forward to working with him!” Although Trump had words of support for Le Pen earlier this year, he had fallen well short of any formal endorsement. In contrast, during the first round of voting two weeks ago (apparently taking a break from preparing to give $400,000 Wall Street speeches) former President Barack Obama waded into the election by making a much-publicized supportive call to Emmanuel Macron, and Obama made his endorsement of Macron official this past Thursday in a video saying in part: “I know that you face many challenges, and I want all of my friends in France to know how much I am rooting for your success … Because of how important this election is, I also want you to know I am supporting Emmanuel Macron to lead you forward. En March! Vive la France!” And once the results came in on Sunday evening showing that Macron had bested Le Pen, former presidential candidate (and wannabe 2020 presidential candidate) Hillary Clinton weighed in too, managing to make the election results about herself, tweeting out: “Victory for Macron, for France, the EU, & the world. Defeat to those interfering w/ democracy. (But the media says I can’t talk about that).” This was apparently in reference to Macron’s emails being hacked and then made public (like Wikileaks did to Clinton), although this seemed to demonstrate that a candidate can, in fact, win despite some hacked emails. That is, of course, if they’re a halfway decent candidate.


In the hotly-contested French presidential race between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, though the race was closely-watched the official results themselves didn’t end up being too close – Macron defeated Le Pen by a wide margin of roughly 66.06% to 33.94% (more than a 30-point spread) as of the time of this writing. Put simply, in the end the race wasn’t much of a race. Emmanuel Macron – leader of his independent party En Marche! (On the Move!) – and Marine Le Pen – leader of the National Front party – differed strongly on many key issues, and so the French people’s choices were pretty clear. Where Macron favored staying in the European Union, keeping the Euro, bringing in high-skilled labor from outside the country, sanctioning Russia, strengthening the French role in NATO, and allowing for continued immigration (including from Muslim-majority nations), Le Pen took very divergent views – she advocated leaving the EU, ditching the Euro, prioritizing French workers, lifting sanctions on Russia, questioning NATO, and severely restricting (if not ending entirely) immigration from Muslim countries. After they both made it through the first round of voting, Macron consistently polled well ahead of Le Pen, with an average margin of 61.5% to 38.5% – and in the end Macron actually slightly over-performed with Le Pen under-performing slightly. Although some outlets tried pushing the idea that Le Pen really could upset Macron a la the Brexit win and the Trump victory, polling from all three events showed that the French election simply was not comparable, at all, to the British & American elections, and that Macron’s win over Le Pen was never really in doubt.



The first round of voting in the French presidential election took place two weeks ago on April 23, 2017 – and for the first time in French presidential history, neither of the two candidates that emerged to face off against each other for the May 7, 2017 run off were from a major party. Emmanuel Macron of En Marche! (with 23.7%) and Marine Le Pen of the National Front (with 21.7%) defeated leftist Unsubmissive France candidate Jean Luc Melenchon (with 19.5%), Republican Francois Fillon (also with 19.5%), and Socialist Benoit Hamon (with 6.2%). The election results for the first round of voting were almost exactly in line with what the election polling predicted, which was the first major sign that the second round of voting would likely line up with polling as well. As Nate Silver, election data guru of Five Thirty Eight put it back on April 23, 2017:

Emmanuel Macron, a centrist candidate, and Marine Le Pen, of the far-right-wing National Front, will advance to a runoff in the French presidential election, after finishing in the top two positions in a first-round vote on Sunday. Macron is an overwhelming favorite to win the runoff on May 7. But we’re likely to hear two weeks of punditry that draws misleading comparisons between Le Pen, President Trump and Brexit – and that exaggerates Le Pen’s chances as a result. The pre-election polls – which had shown Macron at 24 percent, Le Pen at 22 percent, the center-right François Fillon at 20 percent and the far-left-wing Jean-Luc Mélenchon at 19 percent – should come within a percentage point or two of the final result for each of the top four candidates.”

So the polls for the first round of French voting were accurate down to about one percent, meaning that only an extremely tight race would be likely see a Le Pen win over Macron – put as pointed out earlier, the margin was never close to 1%, or even 10%, as it hovered around 20% or more the entire time. This was vastly different than the polling situation regarding both the June 2016 Brexit vote and the November 2016 Trump-Clinton election, where polls were actually extremely close. As Nate Silver further pointed out:

Before the U.S. election, Trump trailed Hillary Clinton by only about 2 percentage points in the average swing state. In the Brexit vote, the ‘Remain’ campaign’s lead was at least as narrow: about 2 points according to a simple average of polls, or just 0.5 percentage points according to a more complex averaging method. So while Trump’s victory and Brexit were historic events in world history, they were utterly routine occurrences from a polling standpoint; 2- or 3-point polling errors are extremely common.”

Where Trump was just a normal polling error behind Clinton, Le Pen was a gargantuan polling error behind Macron. All of the talk about Le Pen somehow pulling off a Brexit or a Trump were simply not based in reality – the British & American races were pretty tight throughout and were tightening down the homestretch, whereas the French election looked like a blow out from start to finish. Pollsters certainly have a lot to answer for in missing the Brexit & Trump phenomenons by a bit – but any commentators predicting a Le Pen win were never basing that possibility on anything but wishful thinking. While some may have wanted Le Pen to win (and many argued that she would be the preferable candidate), the facts never indicated that it was ever going to happen. Facts don’t care about your feelings, unfortunately.


Many on the Right seemed to see some sort of kinship with Marine Le Pen, based upon her anti-EU and anti-immigration stances, specifically her desire to limit Islamic immigration into France. But French politics is not American politics – there is no limited government, pro-liberty, pro-free markets party in France. Emmanuel Macron certainly didn’t stand for any of those things and neither did Marine Le Pen and neither did the assortment of other candidates who got the boot after the first round. It simply doesn’t exist in France. And though Le Pen was routinely called “Far Right”, this is extremely misleading in an American context, and American conservatives should have been much more hesitant in embracing Le Pen. Jonah Goldberg over at National Review made the distinctions between Le Pen and the American Right pretty clear when he wrote:

As for what constitutes ‘far-right,’ that has come to be defined as a grab bag of bigotry, nativism, and all the bad kinds of nationalism. Le Pen is the youngest daughter of the even more ‘far-right’ anti-Semitic politician Jean-Marie Le Pen, who until recently led the National Front party (FN), which was founded in 1972 by, among others, veterans of the Nazi-collaborationist Vichy government … Le Pen rejects the ‘far-right’ label, preferring a ‘third-way’ approach that has a long intellectual history among nationalists and fascists. She says that the symbiotic issues of immigration and globalization (specifically relating to the European Union) yielded a new politics that ‘no longer put the right and left in opposition, but patriots and globalists’ … Her ‘economic patriotism’ – a mélange of anti-immigration, protectionism, support for civil-service protections, and entitlements (at least for the native-born French) – is an updated variant of old-fashioned national-socialism.”

Le Pen didn’t care about the traditional left-right divide (big government vs. limited government, socialism vs. free markets, and so on), but was clearly much more concerned with the issues of EU globalism vs. French nationalism, advocating at times for policies that are fairly foreign to traditional conservatism inside the United States. The singular issue that did seem to connect her to the Right was her stance on Islamic extremism (and France’s pro-unfettered immigration, pro-open borders policy towards it), a problem that elites in France have ignored for decades:

The topic became radioactive for reasonable politicians, creating an opening for unreasonable ones among the working-class constituencies most affected by immigration. This is precisely what has happened in France. Interviews with Le Pen voters tell this story over and over again. They bemoan the great replacement’ of not only workers but also customs, traditions, and lifestyles brought by waves of immigrants. These resentments are perhaps more acute in France than elsewhere, a country where national identity precedes political and ideological orientations, and where assimilation is narrowly defined. But the same dynamic is playing itself out across Europe and America.”

While many on the American Right didn’t really care that Le Pen was no true conservative (arguing that there were way bigger things at stake than whether she fit such labels), many others have pointed out that her losing out to Macron might not be the worst outcome. Le Pen was no real friend of the United States – her pro-Putin and anti-NATO stances were extremely troubling and her being a pro-abortion socialist didn’t exactly make her some conservative hero – but she did touch on an immigration issue that is roiling Western nations worldwide and fueling anti-elite populist sentiments across the globe. Someone like Le Pen is what you get when your country ignores these problems for far too long. But, as the election results in France showed, sometimes this populism only goes so far. Again, Brexit is not Trump is not Le Pen – and the massive wave that carried ‘Leave’ to a Brexit victory and Trump to a presidential win didn’t make it very far up the French shore.

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Jerry Dunleavy

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