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Some Thoughts On Jean-Luc Mélenchon

People in the U.S. keep asking me about the electoral prospects of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the left-wing presidential candidate skyrocketing in the polls just two weeks from the first round. Instead of continuing to respond individually and/or composing an annoying tweet storm, I thought I’d share my thoughts in full sentences here.

The Data

Mélenchon is surging like nobody else.

He’s now the most popular politician in France according to a monthly survey released last week. Fifty-one percent of correspondents said they liked him, a 19 percent jump from the previous month. Mélenchon was also the only one to earn a rating above 50%, beating out all of his presidential competitors, Macron (44%), Hamon (33%), Le Pen (32%), Fillon (23%).

He’s also soaring in the presidential polls. Over the weekend, one survey had JLM at 19%, tied with François Fillon for third, just behind Le Pen and Macron who were both at 23%. Another one had him at 18%, ahead of Fillon (17%), and behind Le Pen and Macron, both at 24%.

Appropriately, that second poll also tested how Mélenchon might actually fare in the second round. Very well: It found him trouncing Le Pen by a 57-43 percent margin—more than Fillon’s 55-45 advantage. It also tested how JLM might fare against the frontrunner Emmanuel Macron, who’d win by a close 53-47 margin. Still, naysayers have warned the presence of Mélenchon in the run-off phase will greatly increase the likelihood of a Le Pen victory. Those fears look unfounded.

Mélenchon also had a late surge before the 2012 presidential election but ultimately finished with just 11 percent of the vote. This year’s campaign is different for a lot of reasons: For one, it’s organized under an independent label, La France Insoumise, as opposed to the Left Front. But it’s also taking place in an incredibly volatile national political climate. The two traditional parties have fielded deeply unpopular candidates and the National Front is poised for a historically strong showing.

All that said, Mélenchon’s numbers today are better than they ever were in the run-up to the last election. His best showing then was 17 percent, just nine days before the vote, solidly behind François Hollande (27%) and Nicolas Sarkozy (26%).

He’s now just 4 points behind the leaders.

The Zeitgest

In the tradition of a certain lazy, mustachioed columnist, I want to share a couple of anecdotes. On Friday night, I was grabbing drinks with some friends at a cheap bar in a gentrifying neighborhood in northeastern Paris when the conversation turned to the election. These are nice people in their mid-twenties who in any other race would be voting for the Socialist Party. I was surprised to learn they both backed Mélenchon. That alone was unexpected, but then they started referencing and discussing his campaign proposals in depth—the Plan A and Plan B for reforming the European Union, why France should leave NATO, the need for a Sixth Republic, etc.

On Sunday, another liberal friend of mine told me she was planning to vote for Mélenchon. She was originally going to vote PS but with the current state of Hamon’s campaign feels like a vote for Mélenchon makes more sense.

It reminds me of when Bernie Sanders really starting taking off. There was a vague point at which things started to click—when the liberals and the non-political people around me started to take him seriously. When they started unexpectedly bringing him up in conversation, talking about things like Medicare-for-all or free college tuition. This feels a lot like that.

Take a look at this video of Mélenchon’s rally in Marseille this weekend. You don’t have to speak French—just watch the first two minutes to get a sense of the massive crowd, the energy and the excitement. None of the other candidates are doing this right now.

It’s really anyone’s guess who’ll be in the second round. But it’s clear Mélenchon has as good of a shot as anyone as qualifying—and ultimately of winning the presidency.

Of course, Sanders ended up losing.

The Last-Ditch Candidate

Social democrat Benoit Hamon—someone who supports a universal basic income, 32 hour work week and tax on companies that replace workers with automation—upset former prime minister Manuel Valls to win France’s left-wing primary and become the Socialist Party’s presidential nominee this spring. I wrote about what it means in my debut for Jacobin.

 

Who Can Beat Le Pen? A Guide To France’s High-Stakes Right-Wing Primary

On both sides of the Atlantic, you can feel the political winds shifting. Growing from breeze to bluster, they carry the hints of a long-forgotten stench in the West. After Brexit and Trump, they’re on to France, where it’s almost certain that the far-right populist Marine Le Pen will qualify for the second round of the country’s two-step presidential election next May. Continue reading