Why you shouldn’t bet on Marine Le Pen’s victory
Le Pen is the wrong populist candidate to bet on in the next big election. She is unlikely to win and the returns for her entering the second round are extremely low. Rather, you should bet your money on the radical left candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
Marine visiting her political crush Vladimir in Moscow. Photo: The Kremlin
Vice News recently released a short video on “Why British People Are Betting On Trump's Impeachment”. It explains the rise in political betting in the UK, focusing on the EU referendum, the American elections and political betting in general. With many Brits making little fortunes betting against the likely outcomes of the two big elections last year, political betting has become increasingly popular. Betting companies were very confident that Britain would stay in the EU and Hillary Clinton would win the presidential elections, especially with the latter. If you had bet £10 (the following numbers all assume a £10 bet) on Donald Trump’s victory a day before the elections you would have made a profit of £40. Betting on Brexit the week before the referendum would have resulted in profits ranging between £15 and £26, depending on the betting company.
According to Vice News, the French elections are the next big thing in the political betting world. This is also supported with the odds at the bookies. Betting on the Alternative für Deutschland, Germany’s right wing party, gaining most seats in the next Bundestag would result in a profit of £140. This obviously reflects how unlikely this is to happen. However, this isn’t the case with the French protest candidates. The main betting companies are all offering surprisingly low returns for Marine Le Pen winning the elections. This might also have something to do with the complex French voting system. While the polls in the first round suggest that Marine Le Pen is hugely popular, she has almost no chance in the second round.
Pollsters didn’t actually get it that wrong
Le Pen’s low returns suggest that the betting companies have become more cautious with right-wing candidates. At the moment it seems most likely that the right-wing candidate will only win the first round, closely followed by the centrist Emanuel Macron. However, according to pollsters, in the standoff between the two, Macron is expected to lead with over 20%.
This leads to the first point: The pollsters didn’t actually get it that wrong in the EU referendum and the American presidential elections. Most polls in the Brexit vote suggested a very close call between the two outcomes. Despite this, the predictions were within the margin of error, as the majority of polls showed Remain to lead with only 2% or less. In other words, the sampling sizes didn’t allow for accurate predictions.
The same holds for the American presidential elections. Trump’s victory was made possible by less than 100,000 votes in swing states in the rust belt. This wasn’t completely unexpected though, as 134 of the 538 electoral votes were within the margin of error, including many rust belt states that voted traditionally for the democratic candidate. Nationwide opinion polls that predicted a Clinton victory were actually correct, as she won the popular vote by over 2%. The French polls, however, suggest that both “establishment” candidates’ lead in the second round are outside the margin of error.
The odds for the four most popular candidates to win the elections. Return and profits based on a £10 bet. (Graph: KNE / Figures: Ladbrokes/Ifop 9/04/2017)
Trump and Brexit were both supported by the political establishment
Secondly, unlike the two French protest candidates Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Trump and Brexit were both supported by the establishment. Trump won the Republican presidential primaries and was eventually supported by the establishment of the Republican party. The nomination of Sarah Palin for Vice President in 2008 was already a concession to the growing populist movement within the party and showed the willingness of the GOP to accommodate them.
Similarly, Euroscepticism has always been relatively high in the United Kingdom compared to other Western European countries. Many Brits never felt completely comfortable in an increasingly integrated political union. Further, Britain was seen by other European countries as a difficult partner. It had secured several opt-outs from legislation and treaties of the European Union. For example, the UK was never part of the Euro and the Schengen Agreement. It had also negotiated a substantial rebate to the membership fees. Euroscepticism was especially high in the Conservative party, which prompted David Cameron to eventually promise a referendum on EU membership to settle growing inter-party tensions. The Leave Campaign was then, of course, endorsed by several prominent Tories.
This stands in huge contrast to Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, both outspoken critics of the EU. Despite being the daughter of a politician and involved in politics all her life, Le Pen has always been a political outsider. Mélenchon, the far left candidate, who sees himself in the tradition of the French revolution, is also squarely outside of the mainstream. Until recently he was given relatively low chances in the opinion polls. However, in the last few weeks he has managed to almost catch-up on a grassroots campaign with the scandal-ridden candidate of the Republicans, François Fillon. Nevertheless, both candidates lack support from the establishment and only represent fringe ideas that are too radical to possibly convince a majority of French voters in the final round.
Mainstream Republicans only reluctantly voted for Donald Trump and hoped that as president he would accept political realities and give up his most extreme positions. Mélenchon and Le Pen lack the mainstream party backing and with it the ability to control controversial and extremist positions (even though this doesn’t necessarily seem to be a concern to Theresa May and Donald Trump). Moreover, as the recent Dutch elections showed, in the end voters are reluctant to vote politicians into power who not only lack government experience but also political connections to form a functioning government. Even though Trump had the backing of the Republican party, he had somewhat of a hard time finding potential ministers, not to mention a musician at his inauguration ceremony.
Le Pen is not the only protest candidate
Thirdly, especially compared to the American elections, French voters won’t have to choose between two unpopular candidates. Indeed, they have the choice between two populist candidates who have high chances to make it into the first round. The most likely winner, Emanuel Macron, a former banker and socialist party member, is running as an independent and presents himself as a centrist alternative to partisan politics. Even the Repulicain candidate, François Fillon, was seen as an outsider when he entered his party’s primary. As the Republican candidate he was given the highest chances of winning the presidential elections until a series of revelations of political scandals in January put an end to his popularity and his chances of becoming the next president. In other words, the four most popular candidates all have, to a certain extent, an outsider status and are very popular in their core voter groups. Furthermore, Macron and Fillon would be able to extend their vote base to all those opposed to a populist candidate - be it on the left or the right.
Despite the media going slightly crazy about Le Pen’s high popularity and an alleged right-swing in French politics, this isn’t the first time that a Front National candidate will enter the second round of the presidential election. In 2002, Marine Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie was able to lead the party into the second round. The democratic parties formed an alliance against him and won more than 80% of votes. This will likely be repeated at this year’s election, just with slightly more votes for Le Pen. According to most polls, Le Pen will win between 39 and 45% of votes - the latter in the increasingly unlikely event of a showdown with Fillon.
Nevertheless, the Know Nothing Enquirer remains confident that money bet on Le Pen is a very bad investment. Betting on Macron winning the elections or “Le Pen NOT to be elected President” seems like a sensible choice. Although the latter will only result in a profit of £2.50. In case you want to play it risky and are willing to lose money you should bet on Mélenchon making it to the first round, which could leave you with a profit of £40. In that case you might as well bet on Mélenchon winning the elections and doubling your profits. Why underestimate the radical gauche? A second round including Mélenchon and without Le Pen would be a greater challenge to Macron. In that case it would be difficult to convince protest voters not to vote for the extremist candidate, even though Mélenchon is equally opposed to the EU and unlikely to solve any real problems - just like Le Pen. But France is angry and voters are desperate for change.