Writing about polls is the degree zero of blogging, but I must do my duty. The latest CSA poll has Hollande closing the first-round gap with Sarkozy and still leading comfortably in the second round. The interesting thing, though, is that the center is hollowing out. Bayrou is down to 10%, and Eva Joly has ceased to exist, dwindling to numbers that put her in the company of Poutou and Arthaud. Mélenchon and Le Pen slug it out at 15 and 13 respectively.
So--and this is something of a surprise--we have a four-tier election: the two frontrunners, followed by the two extremes, followed by a center that is not quite holding, and finally a rump of non-factors. Another poll shows Sarkozy taking votes from both Le Pen and, somewhat paradoxically, Bayrou. What this suggests is that the inexorable logic of the presidential contest is coming into play. Voters are increasingly certain that there will be no inter-round funny business as there was in 2007, when it seemed possible that Royal and Bayrou might conclude some sort of alliance. Hence they must choose either Hollande or Sarkozy. Some voters who had formerly supported Bayrou but who cannot countenance a victory of the Left are therefore deserting to Sarkozy, while some Le Penistes have been seduced (yet again) by the droitisation of Sarkozy's rhetoric.
Since most of Mélenchon's voters will go for Hollande in round 2 (and Aubry is now canvassing the possibility of Communist ministers--"Why not?" she asks--to make sure they don't desert or stay home), the question remains: What will Bayrou's hard-core 10% do in round 2? Despite Hollande's comfortable lead in round 2 polling, I don't think this is quite a done deal. The inter-round head-to-head debate between Hollande and Sarkozy therefore looms ever larger. A major slip-up by Hollande could shift the report des voix in this crucial centrist group one way or the other. My guess is that these centrists have forgotten how good Sarkozy can be in debate. They remember all the things they don't like about the past 5 years, but they haven't yet seen Hollande fully exposed in the glare of the presidential spotlight. No one has, really. So that last debate will have a lot riding on it.