Two week ago Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s superior performance in the first French Presidential TV debate provided the launching pad for a rapid surge in the polls, taking him clearly ahead of Benoit Hamon. Last night’s second encounter again saw the France Insoumise candidate being considered the winner according to two instant opinion polls.
6.6 million viewers watched the four-hour marathon, a milestone in French election history as it was the first televised debate in the Fifth Republic to involve all first round Presidential candidates – 11 in total. That figure was down on the 9.8 million who tuned into the first debate involving only the ‘major’ five candidates, but the second show is still likely to have considerable impact on the campaign with only two and half weeks to polling day. Not least, the ‘little’ candidates have enjoyed a level of media exposure they have not seen to date. And some 17 per cent of respondents told one pollster, Opinionway, that they would change their voting intention as a result of the debate: in a tight first round race, that could be a significant number – if borne out on 23 April, of course.
As in the first debate, Marine Le Pen was the serious underperformer in answer to the question posed by both polls: who was the most convincing candidate in the debate?
Elabe’s survey for BFMTV, co-host of the debate with CNews, placed her on just 11 per cent, compared to a current voting intention average of around 24-25 per cent. Opinionway, commissioned by Le Point magazine, gave the FN leader just 10 per cent, rising to 11 if only those viewers intending to vote were included. However Le Pen’s lacklustre ratings in the first debate failed to shake her support base at all, illustrating the twin limitations of such ‘snap’ polling:
- questions about ‘convincing’ debate performances are very different from questions about voting intentions; and
- the overlap between TV debate viewers and the electorate as a whole may be limited.
In that context Emmanuel Macron and Francois Fillon will probably not be too peturbed that they did not turn in outstanding instant ratings. Sovereignist candidate Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, who objected vehemently to his exclusion from the first TV debate, may be more concerned that he apparently failed to maximise one of his few opportunities to gain momentum. All the same he still has the potential to eat into both the Fillon and Le Pen electorates.
Equally socialist Benoit Hamon, who had been counting on the evening to rescue his floundering campaign, will not be happy with ratings below his current poor voting intention level. Another assured delivery from Mélenchon is likely to further undermine the left flank of Hamon’s dwindling support base.
The unexpected surprise of the night was factory worker and anti-capitalist candidate Philippe Poutou, currently registering between 0 and 1 per cent in the general opinion polls. His score of 5 per cent with Elabe last night matters less than the memorable and wounding attack he delivered on the morality of both Fillon and Le Pen.
Most convincing candidates in debate, per cent:
Jean-Luc Mélenchon 25, Emmanuel Macron 21, Francois Fillon 15, Marine Le Pen 11, Benoit Hamon 9, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan 6, Philippe Poutou 5, Nathalie Arthaud 3, Francois Asselineau 3, Jean Lassalle 1, Jacques Cheminade 0
Fieldwork and release: 04.04.2017. Participants: 1024. Method: Online poll. Media partner: BFMTV.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon 20, Emmanuel Macron 19, Francois Fillon 17, Marine Le Pen 10, Benoit Hamon 8, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan 5, Philippe Poutou 3, Francois Asselineau 3, Jean Lassalle 2, Nathalie Arthaud 1, Jacques Cheminade 1, None of these candidates 11
Fieldwork: 04.04-05.04.2017. Released: 05.04.2017. Participants: 2025. Method: Online poll. Media partner: Le Point.
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