With only a few days to go before the decisive vote, events seem to be getting out of hand and uncertainty is winning. Emmanuel Macron, who came out on top in the second round, can claim victory over Marine Le Pen. But this rational hypothesis in view of the figures and the rallying waves could be thwarted by phenomena of a magnitude never seen before in a French election campaign. Nothing is played and good or bad surprises depending on which side they are observed may occur. The so-called "differential" abstention could turn the prognosis upside down, the emergence of rhetoric, manipulation of facts and post-truths that were thought to be reserved for the American far west is now entering France. Decidedly, this 2017 election campaign is not a long, quiet river.
Ahe spectre of abstention haunts the second round of the presidential elections. It worries supporters of Emmanuel Macron because they know that a strong abstention would favour the National Front. It worries them all the more because the famous Republican Front that was erected in 2002 seems to be in disarray today. It also worries them because the famous glass ceiling that would prevent Marine Le Pen from coming to power seems more and more like a cellophane ceiling. However, the various polls continue to give Macron, the winner of her duel, a relatively comfortable lead. This display of optimism has been shaken since a CNRS and CEVIPOF researcher, Serge Galam, calculated what he calls a "differential abstention". The academic who, thanks to his method, had predicted Donald Trump's victory in the summer of 2016 and anticipated the Brexit vote, explains in a column published by The Conversation the details of his calculations.
The phenomenon described by Galam cannot really be measured in advance because it will only change, at the time of the vote, the calibration of the expected results. According to the researcher, there is a possibility that with, for example, 41 % of voting intentions for Marine Le Pen on the day before the vote, the results would show her as winning by 50.3 % of the votes cast. The scandal of the polls and their unforgivable mistakes will be shouted. In fact, it is not a mistake but the discriminating role that abstention will play.
One of the certain characteristics of the second round ballot is that a significant number of voters who have no predilection for Emmanuel Macron will vote against Marine Le Pen. A reluctant choice which Serge Galam predicts that a large number of voters will be exonerated by "the fact that they are not in favour of Emmanuel Macron". taking advantage of the slightest good excuse not to go at the last minute... ». The weather is fine today, let's go and enjoy the weekend of May 8, this campaign that has been going on for months is starting to tire us out, Le Pen will not pass anyway, etc... So many good or bad reasons for not going to the polling station in the end. The hypothesis that there will be more abstentions among the anti-Le Pen than among the lepenists seems credible. And this is where the abstention differential comes into play. Indeed, the abstention rate among voters who do not naturally vote Le Pen will be higher than among those who vote Le Pen out of conviction. It is from a certain critical threshold of abstention among the voters of his challenger that the election of Marine Le Pen is decided. Thus, if we register a participation lower than 65.17 % in the electorate of Le Pen's challenger, the latter is finally elected with 50.07 % of the votes cast even though the polls would have credited her with 40 % of the votes. All will be played on the last day.
Room for impulses
The other phenomenon that adds to the uncertainty of these elections on 7 May is the importance of the emotional dimensions to the detriment of the rational arguments that we are seeing, more than ever, in this campaign. Pankaj Mishra, one of the co-authors of the book The Age of Regression which we have already discussed in our columns, evokes the emergence of " a huge amount of pent-up energy "that breaks down ethical barriers and conventional categories of thought. A " new irrationalism "Politics appears with its procession of fake news, alternative facts, unfounded rumours, false assertions... Rhetoric abuses images, "blows", post-truths assaulted with brutality, all shame drunk. In the face of this phenomenon, the postulate born of the Enlightenment that individuals should be rational actors is severely beaten. The time has come for "resentment" and for the opinions forged at the source of emotions. Rational reasoning is no longer valid; it is replaced by impulses.
This phenomenon is amplified by the radically antagonistic personalities of the two remaining candidates. On the one hand, a man who believes in rational reasoning to impose himself, on the other, a woman who does not hesitate to borrow from the new springs of the trumping and leaves his interlocutors dumbfounded at the nerve of his assertions. So how can we be surprised by a campaign that has reached a climax in the manipulation of facts, rumours and the brutality of alternative facts? « A campaign with all kinds of bullshit "recently titled Libération.
In the age of post-truthIn the case of the United States, lying, which is considered a simple and acceptable figure of speech, would even be accepted as a skilful and effective way of communicating. Telling a good lie would be like using a nice metaphor to get your message across. The truth doesn't matter.
The academic Charles Hadji points out that political discourse that delights in post-truth plays on emotions and passions. And yet, he says, these are indeed the primary driving force of political life. « Reasonable discourse has little power of its own to mobilize citizens. To keep democracy alive, passions must be mobilized. For the "people" need to dream in order to take ownership of a project and bring it to life. Of course, the dream puts us in fiction. But Raffaele Simone has shown, in his book 'Si la démocratie fait faillite', that citizens living in democracy need to take certain fictions as true, within the framework of a mythology, which is one of the fundamental pillars of democracy."
Thus, fables would be more appreciated than facts. Lies would be more effective than the hard and austere truth. Therefore, why should we hold the authors of lies or outrageous statements to ransom? Not only do we consider their excesses as part of the "normal" political debate, but we also believe their lies. And not only do we believe them, but we propagate them. Social networks have become a sounding board for post-truth. Those who relay false information, lies or slander do not necessarily do so out of pure conviction but to signal their position. The untruth spread on social networks does not matter, what matters is the social signal, the implied opinions that are conveyed. This is how dark rumours, conspiracy theories and the most vile slander are spread.
This is how modern politics is shaped: the battle of arguments is privileged over the establishment of greater truth on a given issue. It is not surprising then that we are witnessing confrontations without a factual basis, with misleading, truncated, distorted messages. It does not matter. What matters now, since truth is relative, is to assert one's own. There is nothing wrong with that, no offence to "honesty" or righteousness. All methods become acceptable to win a fight and especially an election. Questioning the reality of global warming against the advice of thousands of scientists around the world is not a problem. This in no way prevents Donald Trump from winning the election. Asserting, as Marine Le Pen did on TF1 last Monday, that INSEE's figures lie, rehashing misleading immigration statistics, claiming that the terrorist attacks could not have taken place if she were in power, a whole series of assertions, rolled out like a steamroller, without the simplest indignation being able to oppose them. A well-oiled strategy for those who know that the truth has become superfluous to beat their rivals.
The two phenomena combined - differential abstention and trumping of political discourse - make this campaign a concentration of uncontrolled, uncontrollable, unpredictable forces. Forces that are stamping on masses of malleable opinions with effects that can no longer be anticipated.