This weekend, we ran a cover story by Christopher Caldwell on the ascent of Marine Le Pen, new leader of the far-right National Front, founded decades ago by her father, the Algerian War veteran Jean-Marie Le Pen. Ms Le Pen has made the party more explicitly anti-globalist and anti-capitalist, while purging its rhetoric of the anti-Semitic innuendo for which it was known in decades past. In the weeks since Ms Le Pen took the reins, polls have shown her running nearly even in the polls with conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy and potential Socialist challenger Martine Aubry.
Since our article was published, a new survey — done by Harris Interactive for the country’s largest newspaper, Le Parisien— has put political observers in a state of shock. Ms Le Pen is now running ahead of both Sarkozy and Aubry. Since supporting the National Front is still taboo in polite company, the poll may actually underestimate Ms Le Pen's popularity. On the other hand, the survey was done over the Internet, a notoriously unreliable method, and it did not include the name of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the centrist ex-Finance Minister who now heads the International Monetary Fund. Running as a Socialist candidate, Strauss-Kahn would surely pick up more centrist voters than Aubry, and fare better against Ms Le Pen, not to mention Sarkozy. (Harris has promised to run another poll in the coming days, substituting Strauss-Kahn’s name for Aubry’s.)
The poll does not, by any means, make Ms Le Pen the favorite in next year’s presidential elections. But it is a sign that French politics may be on the verge of a shake-up, next to which the rise of the Tea Party in the US would look like a minor adjustment.