What Does Geert Wilders ’ Loss Mean for Le Pen & French Election?

Far-right leader Geert Wilders suffered a swift defeat in the March 15 Dutch election, delivering a significant blow to Europe’s populist uprising. Although Wilders ’ Freedom party gained ground in House of Representatives, it was much less than what pre-election polls had indicated. Does Le Pen need to be worried?

Le PenThe European election circuit continues next month in France, where another Eurosceptic leader is vying for the presidency. According to political analysts, National Front leader Marine Le Pen is a key contender in the race, but her party’s momentum may have been partially offset by the Dutch election result. Recent French polls indicate that independent centrist Emmanuel Macron is likely to beat Le Pen in a run-off election on May 7. Macron’s political stock shot up after conservative leader Francois Fillon was put under the spotlight over suspicion he misused public funds by paying his wife hundreds of thousands of euros for parliamentary work she may not have done.[1]

The first round of the election is set for April 23, with a run-off vote scheduled two weeks later should no candidate secure an all-out majority.

Although Le Pen trails Macron in the polls, it would be foolish to count her out entirely, according to a Goldman Sachs executive. In an email to clients, Goldman’s Bobby Vedral said the market was too complacent about Le Pen’s chances of winning the upcoming election.

Vedral wrote that, “while the base case is that she won’t [win], it is at best naive, at worst negligent to assume she can’t.”

To support his claim, Vedral pointed to the large swathe of French voters who have not made up their mind about the upcoming election. Vedral also said populistLe Pen candidates usually benefit from the “shy vote,” which means Le Pen’s support could be bigger than the polls suggest.[2] This was evident in the U.S. election, where Donald Trump secured a commanding victory despite most opinion polls pointing to an easy victory for Hillary Clinton.

An opinion poll by Odoxa corroborated Vidal’s view. The survey’s managers said there was an unprecedented level of uncertainty among French voters about who to choose in the upcoming election.

“The level of voter indecision about the candidates is exceptional,” Odoxa said, referring to the fact that 43% of voters were still hesitant about who to support.[3]

A win by Le Pen is being considered by many a precursor to ‘Frexit’, or France’s eventual withdrawal from the European Union. A victory by Le Pen, based on expected action, may jolt the financial markets, removing what little confidence is left in pan-European integration.

With the United Kingdom already on the path of exiting the EU, Brussels may not be able to withstand a Frexit scenario.

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[1] Regis Duvingnau and Bernard Groillier (March 25, 2017). “France’s Macron ahead in polls, Fillon faces angry protesters.” Reuters.

[2] Will Kirby (March 27, 2017). “‘Marine Le Pen could WIN French election’, Goldman tells investors.” Express UK.

[3] Reuters (March 24, 2017). “Poll find unprecedented uncertainty among French voters before presidential election.”

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