With the first round of France’s pivotal presidential election just days away, polls show the major candidates separated by razor-thin margins. At this point, it seems plausible that Saturday’s voting could produce a final round face-off between any two-candidate combination of the top four—Le Pen, the far-right populist, Macron, the technocratic centrist, Fillon, the traditional center-righter, or Mélanchon, the die-hard socialist.
Meanwhile, U.S. polling guru Nate Silver, who came closer than most mainstream pollsters to predicting Donald Trump’s upset victory, says the real state of the race may be even more unpredictable still. He suspects that pollsters may be “copying one another and over-massaging their data instead of letting their data speak for itself,” and that it’s possible that one candidate or another is actually in the lead.
I continue to worry about the lack of variation in French election polls. Polls shouldn't be this consistent unless there's massive herding. pic.twitter.com/Xgd8dNUytN
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) April 17, 2017
As the political scientist Matt Grossmann has pointed out, a modest swing toward any candidate in the final days of the race could dramatically change the media narrative after results come in—from a ratification of the nationalism of Brexit and Trump to the rise of a new leftwing revolt against the status quo to a vindication of the centrist establishment. But even if it is the last of those three, the fact that all bets seem to be off so close to election day, with two once-marginal ideologies making serious bids for power, shows just how unprecedented a time this is in French politics, and how fragile the EU project really is.