Sarkozy tried to adopt many of Le Pen’s positions but while he has provided Marie Le Pen’s positions with legitimacy, he has apparently only lost his own credibility. He has suffered a humiliating defeat coming behind both Fillon and Juppe in the centre-right primary.
French ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy saw his ambition to lead the country for a second time dashed as he suffered a crushing defeat to his former prime minister, François Fillon, in the first round of a centre-right primary on Sunday.
Fillon will now face off against another former prime minister, Alain Juppé, in a November 27 run-off to become the centre-right Les Republicains’ nomination in May’s presidential election. With ballots counted at 8,709 polling stations out of a total 10,229, Fillon was seen gathering 44.1 percent of the votes, Juppé 28.2 percent and Sarkozy 21.0 percent.
Sarkozy, president from 2007-12, said he would now back Fillon, a surprise frontrunner in what is the centre-right’s first ever presidential primary, in the run-off vote.
As results trickled in Sunday evening and the gap between Sarkozy and Juppé became ever wider, Sarkozy had little choice but to concede defeat.
This was the first ever centre-right primary and anybody with 2€ was eligible to vote. With an unknown electorate, opinion polls were very circumspect. But those few which dared to make any predictions expexted Juppe to lead, Sarkozy to come second and for Fillon to be eliminated. Fillon’s margin over Juppe was surprising and gives him the edge for the run-off on November 27th.
But Fillon’s first-round win over Juppe and Sarkozy is also consistent with the narrative that opinion polls can no longer pick up trends which go against “political correctness”. The establishment are seen as the high priests of “political correctness” and nobody will admit to heresy in advance. Those who intend to vote against what is deemed “politically correct” just do not admit it. They neither admit to going against conventional wisdom whether in opinion polls or in exit polls. There were many secret voters against Brexit and many secret voters for Trump.
I expect also that France will have many secret voters for Marie Le Pen. While Fillon probably has a better chance against her than Sarkozy, opinion polls for the French Presidential elections (first round on 23rd April 2017 and the run-off round on May 7th) will almost certainly miss her “secret voters”. The polls will underestimate her strength. Her own party supporters probably can get her up to 30%. The left have no one to back and while many could force themselves to back Juppe just to keep Marie Le Pen out, they may abstain rather than back Fillon. After all for the unions Fillon is as bad as Margaret Thatcher.
For Marie Le Pen the best result would have been if Sarkozy had won. Fillon winning the primary run-off would be the next best thing since many of Sarkozy’s supporters at yesterday’s primary may well find a safe harbour with Le Pen.