Can Marine Le Pen actually win?

It’s barely 2 months until the first round of France’s national elections and the situation remains what one would charitably refer to as “a mess.” The general consensus thus far is that there is no way that anyone is going to come up with a majority on April 23, meaning that they will go on to a runoff election a couple of months later with the two top vote getters squaring off. A large part of the international media attention is, of course, focused on “right-wing radical” Marine Le Pen. Originally written off as a figure who draws far more headlines than actual votes, the latest round of polling indicates that she is slowly but steadily increasing her appeal. (Bloomberg)

Marine Le Pen gained ground on her rivals for the French election as she benefits from concerns about security while other candidates trained their fire on independent front-runner Emmanuel Macron.

Monday’s daily OpinionWay poll showed that first-round support for anti-euro candidate Le Pen rose 1 percentage point to 27 percent, with Macron and Republican Francois Fillon unchanged at 20 percent each. While no surveys so far have shown Le Pen even close to a victory in May’s run-off, she’s quickly narrowing the gap to her rivals. OpinionWay showed Macron would defeat Le Pen by 58 percent to 42 percent in the second round. His advantage has halved in less than two weeks.

A one point shift in the polls shouldn’t be cause for too much celebration since it’s within the margin of error and could represent the normal rattling around which these numbers tend to exhibit. But with that said, at least it’s in the right direction for Le Pen. As noted above, each of the parties in the race is absorbing enough popular support to prevent any of them from getting to 50% and winning outright in April. If the numbers hold firm at their current levels Le Pen’s party will receive a larger share of the vote and she will then after face-off against whoever comes in second.

Those other contenders are having their own fair share of problems though. Emmanuel Macron is currently embroiled in a wave of criticism over recent comments he made about France’s colonial past. Françoise Fillon, the early front runner, saw his favorability and support tank after revelations that family members had received extremely well-paying jobs on the taxpayer dime and he has yet to recover his former standing.

The conventional wisdom of the moment still claims that Le Pen will face one of those two individuals in the runoff where she will be beaten badly. The same poll referenced above shows her losing a two-way race by 16 points, but that’s still significantly better than she was doing at the end of last year. So is there any chance that we are on the verge of yet another shocking upset? To retain something of a grip on reality, they’re called “shocking upsets” for a reason. They don’t actually happen very often. But the phrase “they have no chance” has taken something of a beating lately. Trump was supposed to lose and yet here we are. There wasn’t enough support for Brexit and that was the position of all the experts until they finished counting the votes.

Is Le Pen destined to be the person to pull off the hat trick? I still wouldn’t bet my last euro on it, but if 2016 has taught us anything, it’s to keep our seat belts fastened, arms and legs fully inside the car, and wait for the ride to come to a complete stop before making definitive predictions.