Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Polls, Sigh ...

Polls are like economists. Take any 2 of them and you'll get 3 opinions. Still, some of my best friends are economists, and polls are a hazard with which any political commentator must contend. So take this poll of whether the PS is "sufficiently left" with a couple of grains of salt. According to L'Obs, the bottom line is that the party is divided neatly down the middle, because 49% of PS "sympathizers," whatever that means, responded "A gauche comme il faut" rather than "trop à gauche" or "insuffisament à gauche." But then we see that among PS sympathizers, 67% think Ségolène Royal is "comme il faut," while 54% say the same of Holland and 57% of Aubry.

And of course if we tried to unpack what any of the respondents, or for that matter any of the political figures they have been asked to judge, mean by "left," I'm sure we would discover hyperfine splitting of the spectral lines, to borrow a little jargon from physics.

In short, we have a poll-induced muddle. Much of what passes for political thinking nowadays takes off from such surveys, but we are not likely to get very far if we follow this course. It might be more illuminating to start by asking what "left" means to those who identify with "the left" today. Because it goes without saying that if "left" means what it was taken to mean at the time of the Congress of Tours or the Popular Front, today's PS is not "comme il faut." But that is the whole question: Que faut-il pour être de gauche et réaliste aujourd'hui?

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