Macron wins France’s unpopularity contest

If you listened very closely, at 7pm Irish time last night, you will have heard the collective sigh of relief across European capitals as the announcement came through that President Macron had, in the end, comfortably despatched with the challenge of Marine LePen.

58 to 42, in the end. Not very close.

There will, of course, be those on the dissident right who seek comfort in LePen’s relatively closer defeat compared to 2017, when she was trounced and received only 34% of the vote. But that optimistic take seems – to me, anyway – entirely misplaced: It amounts to an admission, after all, that your positions are so unpopular that losing by sixteen points to a man like Mr. Macron is some sort of comfort. It should not be.

Mr. Macron, after all, is not a popular man. In the first round of this election, two weeks ago, he garnered just 27% of the vote. 73% of French people wanted something different. In opinion polls, his approval rating is 36%. He was not re-elected with enthusiasm, but with resentment: Resentment that Ms LePen was their only other option, and that compared to her, Macron would have to do.

This, ultimately, is the greatest limitation of democracy: We like to think that the most popular candidate wins, but a lot of the time, it is the least unpopular candidate who triumphs. Between Macron and LePen, he was much less unpopular than she was.

Unfortunately there is no way, in a democracy, to measure the intent of a voter. We can measure only what they do with their votes:  A vote for a candidate that is cast simply to keep another out has the exact same impact as a vote cast for a candidate because the voter sincerely wants that candidate’s policies implemented. A reluctant vote counts just as much as an enthusiastic one. But look at this:

In the end, though, Macron’s majority is commanding, regardless of whether it was a vote for him, or a vote against LePen. It’s all academic. All you need to do, in a democracy, is make sure you are less unpopular than the other guy.

And that’s what this comes down to: Mr. Macron’s globalist, progressive, “woke” agenda is unpopular, but it is less unpopular than all the baggage candidates like Ms Le Pen tend to carry with them. There are echoes of Donald Trump here: All the evidence suggests that Mr. Trump’s policies were and remain popular with the American public, but that the constant bloviating, bragging, blustering and bullshitting is a big turn off.

Indeed, on that very subject, here is President Biden’s Chief of Staff, last night, clearly contemplating the prospect of a re-match with the Donald in 2024. If the Republicans nominate Trump again, they deserve everything they get – and get it they will.

All of this poses a question which it is important to ask: Why is it that across the west, the dissident right increasingly seems drawn to fringe candidates and challengers?

There is, after all, a lot for opponents of global progressivism to run on. Mass immigration is unpopular. By and large, as Ron DeSantis is showing in the US State of Florida, large “woke” corporations are unpopular. There is an ever-increasing audience for opposition to things like restrictions on free speech, the redefinition of gender, and excessive political correctness.

But the French are never going to vote for LePen. And Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 – while impressive – was a once in a generation fluke of that country’s electoral college system. Mrs. Clinton got millions more actual popular votes from Americans than he did. As did Mr. Biden, in 2020.

Some people will cry, as they always do, about media bias and the system being rigged and their candidates being the victims of conspiracies to stop them winning. And they will have a very good point. But here’s the thing: None of those things can be changed until you win anyway, despite them. And to do that, you need better, more mainstream, candidates. The left had to learn that the hard way in the UK, when Labour nominated Mr. Corbyn. The right should learn it from France, and the USA. These guys in power are not unbeatable, or even especially popular. The trouble is, the alternatives that get nominated to oppose them are even less unbeatable, and even less unpopular.

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