France’s presidential election could spring some surprises even if the lineup for the second round currently seems fairly clear-cut today, a panel of polling experts told the AAPA on April 7.

Once they got into the voting booths, many voters confounded polling agencies in recent crucial votes in the U.S. and the U.K. by making choices that they hadn’t previously shared with canvassers, and there’s a possibility this last-minute effect could repeat itself in France on April 23 and May 7, they said.

Over 30 AAPA members and three senior pollsters — Frédéric Micheau of OpinionWay, Edouard Lecerf of Kantar Public and Jérome Fourquet of Ifop — gleaned useful background information for news hounds covering the elections.

Former Prime Minister Francois Fillon has lost a broad swathe of the conservatives’ normal backing because he has been tainted by accusations of misusing public funds and influence trafficking, as well as his harsh economic program that is turning off many center-right voters.

The question is, when people get into the voting booth, will they opt for a tainted candidate or will they say, “He may not be very clean, but the interest of the country comes first,” said Jerome Fourquet.

“Some might feel that it’s better to go with the devil you know” than an untested but popular candidate like Emmanuel Macron or the National Front’s Marine Le Pen, added Edouard Lecerf.

Fourquet said Fillon could benefit from an “army of reserves who will reveal themselves at the last minute,” having been too embarrassed or rattled by negative media coverage to admit their preference.

If Fillon is eliminated in the first round and his electorate flock to Le Pen two weeks later, she would stand a bigger chance of winning, but only if a big chunk of left-leaning voters abstain,the pollsters said. “Accidents can happen, but absolutely everything would need to be in line for her,” Fourquet said.

Frédéric Micheau of OpinionWay noted that French voters demand honesty from their politicians before competence. Fillon is bottom of the list when they are asked to rank the candidates for their trustworthiness, he said.

Resisting pressure from members, the speakers declined to predict the winner in the May 7 runoff, saying today’s poll results reflect only today’s opinions, and opinions can change dramatically on the home straight.

Fourquet commented that French society is no longer divided along traditional left-right leanings but between nationalists and globalists. And 80% of Le Pen’s followers are overwhelmingly pessimistic, while Macron’s are optimistic in the same proportion.

-David Pearson


(With special thanks to Sara Llana for setting up this event and to Bloomberg News Paris bureau chief Geraldine Amiel for agreeing to host it in the Bloomberg auditorium).

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