Who will be the next President of France?

From the team that successfully predicted the victory of Donald Trump comes a new prediction survey for the upcoming second round of the French presidential elections. Vuk Vukovic, Oraclum’s director and Ilona Lahdelma, his colleague from Oxford with in-depth knowledge of french politics, discuss the results of the first round, its implications for the second, the precision of French pollsters, and how the BASON survey can again offer the best prediction for the French elections.

See the survey and its current results:

The first round of the French Presidential elections, surprisingly, went exactly as expected. The outcome suggested by the pollsters was that Macron and Le Pen would enter the second round, separated by a small margin of around 1-2%.

The uncertainty regarding the outcome, however, was much greater. A week before the election headlines everywhere were suggesting a four-way tie with each of the candidates likely to enter the second round.

The first round results did indeed show a highly divided France. On one hand there is the France of the winners of globalisation: the urban clusters of Paris, Bordeaux, Lyon, Rennes and Strasbourg with educated, internationally-oriented citizens, working in the fields of finance, business, or technology, with clearly pro-Europe and pro trade views. On the other hand, the de-industrialized North and the South-East coping with immigration and job losses have been areas of increasing support for the National Front for the past decade. Interestingly, Macron and Le Pen did not manage to penetrate the citadels of the Left and Catholic France. Mélenchon did well in the traditionally leftist South-West and Fillon among the traditionally Catholic voters of the Mid-West and South-East areas of France. However, in the greater Paris area it was interesting to see that Macron managed to get votes both from the traditionally right-leaning affluent Western areas and the poorer Eastern and Southern suburbs, demonstrating that his “not left but not right-wing” policies do manage to cross traditional partisanships. This suggests that what matters in these elections are class, income, and a person’s view of the current economic system, rather than traditional party linkages.

How the pollsters did?

Table 1 shows the weighted average bias of all French pollsters and the results are laudable, given that the average of polls was correct within a single percentage point for all the candidates. As it shows the polls may have only slightly overestimated Le Pen and Hamon, and have underestimated, again only marginally, Macron, Fillon, and Mélenchon. In an election as close as this one was, this is remarkable precision. Particularly since they have correctly indentified the trend which has carried on until election day – the trend suggested a marginal rise for Macron over Le Pen since mid-April, as well as a large increase in support for Mélenchon after the debates (and a consequential decline for Hamon as he lost the support of Left voters), and finally a gradual stabilization for Fillon since his scandals. Even in the last few weeks the polls got the trends right – both Fillon and Mélenchon were closing the gap behind the two front-runners.

What does their first-round precision tell us about the outcome in the second round? Prior to the first round all polls suggested that any candidate that went against Le Pen in the second would secure a 15 to 20 percentage point margin of victory against her. The consensus was that, just like 15 years ago, the ‘front républicain’ would rally against Le Pen in the second and produce an overwhelming victory for the opponent. The combinations of how the voters will re-align have already begun. Many are estimating slightly higher abstention rates, particularly among Fillon and Mélenchon voters. Hamon voters are more or less all projected to go to Macron, Fillon voters will split in three-ways (about 40% for Macron, one third for Le Pen, and one third will abstain), whereas Mélenchon voters are most likely to abstain from the second round (or cast a blank vote). Adding this up, it seems like this is Macron’s race to lose.

The current average of all polls after the second round stands at 60.3% for Macron to 39.7% for Le Pen (with a slight narrowing of the trend in the last few days – see the figure). Given the success of first-round polling one would assume that making a second-round prediction will not be too difficult. However the slight narrowing of the trend in the past few days could imply an interesting race even as we enter the final week of the campaign.

The factor that can play against Macron is the abstention rate that promises to be record high in these elections. Already the first round had less votes (abstention of 22%) than five years ago (abstention 20 %), with 2.6 % of cast votes being blank. The proportion of blank votes has also risen from the first round of the previous presidential elections (1.9%). Blank voting was especially strong in the middle parts of France where both Le Pen and Macron did well in the first round and in the overseas domains where Mélenchon was the winner.

This illustrates two things: first, both Macron and Le Pen have more potential votes in the middle parts of France than what they have mobilized so far, and second, areas that voted for Mélenchon in the first round are prone to abstention, suggesting that there will not be a clear overflow of votes from Mélenchon to Macron. Mobilizing these voters could very well be a determining factor in this election. Le Pen’s votes come from the lower income strata that usually correlates more with higher abstention. Macron’s more educated and urban voters come from the upper income strata, but Le Pen’s voters are more committed than Macron’s supporters.  Both candidates need Mélenchon’s votes and how these votes will be cast is a mystery not only because of the candidate’s ambiguity regarding his own stance, but also because it is left to be seen how Macron and Le Pen manage to cajole these voters.

What does our survey say about the race, and what makes it so special?

Oraclum’s Bayesian Adjusted Social Network (BASON) Survey is an Internet poll. It uses the social networks between friends on Facebook to conduct a survey among them. The survey asks the participants to express: 1) their vote preference (e.g. Le Pen or Macron); 2) how much they think their preferred choice will get (in percentages); and 3) how likely they think other people will estimate that either Le Pen or Macron will win. This is essentially a wisdom of crowds (citizen forecaster) concept, the idea of which is to incorporate wider influences from peer groups that shape an individual’s perception over who is more likely to win in his or her local area.

In addition, we adjust our participants’ forecasts for groupthink – how likely they are to be biased due to their friendship networks or their source of information. In many cases information from likeminded friends or media can create a distorted perception of reality (colloquially a “bubble”) which is returned back to the crowd biasing their internal perception. To overcome this, we need to see how much individuals within the crowd are diverging from the opinion polls, but also from their internal networks of friends (from their bubbles). This is why we use social networks to capture the groupthink influence of friends, and adjust the initial predictions given by each participant. The end result is a very precise prediction that guessed, within a single percentage point, all the major US swing states in favour of Trump, as well as the Brexit referendum.

Our current survey is available at the following app: https://france2017.oraclum.co.uk/. We invite all the French readers to give it a try and tell us what they think who will be the next president of France. We will publish our final results the day before the elections, on May 6th, but you may check out our current results on the website.

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Vuk Vukovic is a DPhil student in Politics at the University of Oxford and the Director and co-founder of Oraclum Intelligence Systems (together with Dr Dejan Vinkovic and Prof Dr Mile Sikic).

Ilona Lahdelma is a DPhil student in Politics at the University of Oxford specializing in European politics and political behaviour.

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