Marine Le Pen—the far-right populist-nationalist who has advanced to the second round of the French presidential election along with the centrist, internationalist Emmanuel Macron—might today be the 25th president of the Republic if France had America’s electoral system, according to a new analysis from The Economist. The magazine envisions an alternate universe where France’s 18 regions function like U.S. states and the country’s two-phase presidential campaign morphs into a collège électoral.
The math is rough and the imagined outcome depends on support for the far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon ultimately shifting toward Le Pen. (While this may be a stretch, it’s not an impossibility: Melenchon and Le Pen are far apart ideologically, but they are both opposed to globalization, the European Union, and the political establishment.) Still, the thought experiment is instructive:
Just as in the United States, a French electoral college would have negated the liberal candidate’s advantage in the popular vote. Although Mr Macron prevailed in the two biggest regions, Ms Le Pen came first in seven of the next nine. The result would be a stunning tie: the two leaders would have received 90 electoral votes each, with the leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon claiming ten (all from overseas regions) and the conservative François Fillon a paltry three.
Using these rules, no candidate would have won a majority of the electoral college. As a result, under the system implemented by the 12th amendment to the United States constitution in 1804, the House of Representatives would then pick the victor, with each region getting one vote regardless of its size. Assuming that each region supported the candidate that won it, the contender supported by the majority of regions would be named president.
With eight of the eighteen regions to her name, Ms Le Pen would be only two short of an absolute majority. Mr Macron would be behind with six (and likely also supported by Mr Fillon’s one region). It would be up to supporters of Mr Mélenchon, who won three regions, to pick the next president: the future of Europe would rest on the radical left of France.
France, of course, is not the United States. But that’s precisely what’s striking about The Economist’s calculations. They are a reminder to not over-interpret the strength or weakness of populism based on any one data point.