Emmanuel Macron has taken French voters for granted. Now he risks defeat.

Emmanuel Macron has taken French voters for granted. Now he risks defeat. By Olivier Tonneau.

The rise of Macron is characteristic of the age of spin doctors: it illustrates both their power and their limits. It is truly astonishing that the man who inspired (as personal secretary) and implemented (as finance minister) the policies of President François Hollande could be branded as something radically new.

To achieve this feat, spin doctors resorted to celebrity-building in ways previously unknown in French political life. Macron was new because he was young and handsome, and because he had never been elected before. He appeared repeatedly on the front pages of Paris Match with his wife, whose name is chanted by his supporters at his rallies. In the final weeks of the campaign Macron was so careful not to expose the true nature of his programme (which amounts to little more than the unpopular liberalism-cum-austerity implemented by Hollande) that his speeches degenerated into vacuous exercises in cliche and tautology.

The strategy worked up to a point: he qualified for the second round. Yet its limits are also clear. …

Where Macron might come unstuck:

Theoretically, Macron should defeat Le Pen hands down. The problem is that the meaning of such a result would be unclear: how many would have voted for him, and how many against her? …

Of the four frontrunners in the first round, Macron had the fewest “conviction” voters. According to a poll, fewer than half of those who voted for him did so because they believed his programme would change life for the better. Thus he needs to get his validation in the second-round count, and hence cannot do what Jacques Chirac did when facing Jean-Marie Le Pen in the 2002 run-off: Chirac immediately made clear that he would not interpret votes in his name as expressions of support.

Macron has done the opposite: he boldly stated that he only wanted votes based on genuine commitment. In so doing, he has run a major risk: he has dared people who oppose him (and there are many) to abstain. An astonishing proportion of voters seem ready to call his bluff. The situation has become so alarming that a Le Pen victory is becoming less implausible every day. …

It’s the oppressive state, stupid!

A few weeks before the election, something important happened that was largely unnoticed: an opinion poll showed that the main concern of the people was neither unemployment nor immigration, but the reform of state institutions (institutional issues are rarely brought up in polls). There is a deep resentment towards a state they perceive as oppressive, corrupt and violent.

[Many] voters are not interested in the comparative merits of a Le Pen or a Macron government; their anger is directed at the “deep state” (police, justice, administration). They are even less inclined to vote Macron, because they know – everyone knows – that the second round was deliberately staged. They feel they were set up, and abstention seems to them a dignified act.