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PARIS – The rise of French presidential hopeful Eric Zemmour has been dazzling. It receives significantly more prime-time TV slots and front-page articles than many of its rivals. It is also on the rise in the polls.
Last week, a poll showed that Zemmour passed Marine Le Pen for the first time and qualified for the second round of the French elections next year. The Harris Interactive poll predicted that Zemmour would get 17% of the vote, against 15% for Le Pen and 24% for Emmanuel Macron. The poll is an outlier compared to POLITICO’s aggregate of all available polls, which shows Zemmour at 13%, behind Le Pen at 17% and Macron at 24%. But the Harris Interactive poll nonetheless made headlines.
Zemmour is a controversial figure whose inflammatory rhetoric on immigration and Islam is accused of fueling division in France and degrading public debate ahead of the April elections. His supporters, however, say he is a breath of fresh air in a society plagued by political correctness.
Meanwhile, Zemmour, convicted of incitement to hatred, dominates the news in France.
“He put the media in check and checkmate. Just like Trump, ”said Gaspard Gantzer, former adviser to ex-president François Hollande. “Zemmour is very well known in a fragmented media landscape and is leading the pack because those who make the most scandalous statements have the advantage today. ”
The French Trump?
Trump and Zemmour have similar life stories and similar views. Trump has gained enormous exposure on Fox News and “The Apprentice,” while Zemmour has made a name for himself in popular TV shows and 24-hour news channels. They both make a virtue of not to be career politicians.
Like Trump, Zemmour occupied the media landscape with a mix of over-the-top postures and promises of an uncompromising approach to immigration, one of the key issues of the election. Recently, he suggested reintroducing Catholic first names for children born in France in order to improve the integration of immigrants and said he was in favor of expel all “foreign delinquents”. »
“The difference is that Donald Trump fought an anti-intellectual battle and worked hard to show his contempt for intellectuals,” said left-wing sociologist Philippe Corcuff. “But in France, a president must have an intellectual veneer. Emmanuel Macron highlighted his closeness to the philosopher Paul Ricoeur. While [Zemmour] wants to be seen as the intellectual Trump.
In the newsrooms in France, journalists cannot avoid the television star, even if they do not like him.
“I can’t believe what I’m hearing at our editorial meetings,” said a French journalist who works for a left-wing newspaper in Paris. “We are talking about immigration. Everything revolves around Zemmour and how are we going to respond to him, ”she said.
“We barely cover left-wing candidates. We do what the left does every time, pushing the far right, ”said the journalist. “But at some point, the far right goes [win an election]. »
“I have the impression that there is a dynamic between the media and the polling agencies,” said a foreign journalist who was commissioned to write an article on Zemmour after the last poll. “They feed on each other. ”
According to media watchdog Acrimed, Zemmour has received 16 prime-time or front-page TV slots over the past month. That is to say more than 11 hours of airtime against two hours for the socialist candidate Anne Hidalgo and a little more than an hour for Le Pen, according to the independent journalist Robin Andraca. Of course, Le Pen and Hidalgo have their own campaign calendars to consider.
Surf the wave
Things seem unlikely to change, at least in the short term.
According to Corcuff, reporters will find it difficult to stop the media momentum around Zemmour. “It’s the context that’s going to win them over,” he said, “if there’s an event, a terrorist attack, a series of bad polls, something unusual that distracts their attention. And the polls are changing, a candidate is interesting because we are talking about him.
This happened, he said, in the case of François Fillon, whose promising 2017 offer collapsed when he became involved in a bogus jobs case involving his wife.
Zemmour has yet to officially confirm his candidacy and the Tory Republicans have yet to find a candidate, making polls unpredictable. Six months into the first round of elections, most people are still not quite tuned in to the campaign. The share of undecided voters also varies widely, from around 13% in the latest Elabe poll to 27% in an Ifop-Fiducal poll.
According to the daily L’Opinion, there are also indications that Le Pen – who has taken and is not punching – is about to retaliate. Zemmour has been accused of having a problem with women due to previous statements about the “feminization” of society and allegations of inappropriate behavior in the workplace.
A recent photo of Le Pen surrounded by female supporters suggests she knows exactly where to aim.