Leighton Vaughan Williams assesses the French Election betting landscape.
The voting on Sunday in the first round of the election to determine the next president of France was in fact quite close, with less than 4.5% of the vote share separating the top four candidates, and less than 2% separating those placed second, third and fourth. Only two can go through to the second and final round of voting, however, and that came down to Emmanuel Macron, the candidate of the new, centrist En Marche party (24%) and Marine Le Pen, of the far right Front National (21.3 per cent). Francois Fillon (on the centre-right) and Jean-Luc Melenchon (on the far left) picked up 20% and 19.6% respectively. In the event, Macron’s lead of almost 3% over Le Pen defied most expectations. The higher than expected turnout in areas leaning to the former Economy minister explains this in part, with Paris polling particularly strongly.
Macron would appear to be the candidate Le Pen would least want to face, with the polls indicating that she has upwards of a 20% gap to make up, and less than two weeks to do it. The early concession speech of Fillon, in which he threw his support behind Macron for the final round of voting, was also a very big cherry on the En Marche victory cake. With Benoit Hamon, the Socialist Party candidate, who secured 6.4% of the vote, doing likewise, the omens were starting to look very good. Only Melenchon’s refusal to endorse him dampened things a bit.
Now let’s look at that thing called value. When I advised Emmanuel Macron to win the presidency at 6/1 (longer in places) on January 4th, I did so because the price on the ‘Outsider’, as I termed him, was simply excellent value. Neither Le Pen nor Fillon was likely, I wrote at the time, to attract much support from the left or centre-left of the political spectrum, and that they would split a considerable section of the votes of those whose main concern is immigration. This might be enough, I argued, to let another candidate into the run-off. Of the available choices, I went for the avowedly centrist, outsider ticket espoused by Macron. He also sported a higher approval rating than his rivals.
Macron is also lucky to be facing Marine Le Pen rather than Francois Fillon, whom she beat in the vote share by just a little over 1%. A Macron/Fillon showdown might have been a real nail-biter, and the 5/1 on offer about Fillon just a couple of weeks prior to the first vote was almost (though not quite) as attractive as the earlier 6/1 about Macron, and certainly worth considering as a hedge.
So is there any similar value available now? The best price available about a Macron victory is currently 1/6, with 11/2 on offer about Le Pen. Does either price offer value? For those who took the 6/1 about Macron, is the 11/2 about Le Pen now a reasonable hedge of the position?
The default view is that Macron is so far ahead in the polls that it will take a political earthquake to shake his lead, especially in the short period of time before the final vote (Sunday, May 7th). So what could cause such an earthquake? The obvious thing is a major scandal affecting the frontrunner, or a disastrous gaffe, perhaps in a debate. This is one of those known unknowns. A big personal scandal seems somewhat unlikely given the two-stage nature of this contest, yet stranger things have happened before. Still, it is worth bearing in mind that matters which might be considered politically damaging in some countries are not always considered in the same light by the French voting public.
Probably of more concern to Macron is turnout, that imponderable which has made a monkey out of many a poll. He will be hoping not just for a favourable turnout from his own supporters but also from former supporters of Fillon, Hamon and Melenchon. But he can’t rely on any of this. In 2002, the centre and centre-left united behind Jacques Chirac to decisively see off the second-round challenge of another Le Pen, Jean-Marie, the father of the current candidate.
Marine Le Pen will be hoping that Emmanuel Macron is no Jacques Chirac, as she seeks to persuade voters uncommitted to Macron, especially the backers of Fillon, to switch to her. She is also hoping that her supporters will flock to the polls in huge numbers to offset any preference for Macron among the less committed.
A major terror attack is another of those known unknowns. The precise effect that might have on the race is difficult to assess, but it might very well play into the hands of a candidate playing the no-nonsense nationalist card.
Then there is the greatest imponderable of them all, the Putin factor. There is a suspicion in some circles that the Russian leader has support for Le Pen next on his list of ‘to do’ tasks. A report by CNN today, for example, suggests that Macron’s campaign was recently targeted by hackers using methods similar to those used to target the Clinton campaign in the US presidential election. Whatever the basis of all of this, it’s one more factor to consider.
So what now? My own view, based on everything, is that there is currently no real value at either the 1/6 on offer about Emmanuel Macron gaining the keys to the Elysee Palace, or the 11/2 about Marine Le Pen. If you already took the 6/1 or longer about Macron advised here in early January, you might of course wish to lock in a profit, regardless of value. If so, I wouldn’t wish to stop you. For the moment, though, I shall keep a watching brief for any unexpected developments. A week is a long time in politics. A week and a few days is even longer.