Friday, April 18, 2008


Le Figaro commissioned a poll about unemployment. It used its favorite polling firm, OpinionWay. Marianne quickly responded that the poll was meaningless, because "everyone knows" that OpinionWay is biased toward the Right. Business as usual, no? Well, yes, but the problem with denouncing the messenger is that it dispenses with considering what the message was supposed to have been. And even if one grants that OpinionWay isn't reliable, the results of its poll are curious, and even more so if the firm is supposed to favor the government. Because what the poll shows is that the respondents do not trust the government to set conditions concerning when the unemployed must accept offers of employment or lose unemployment benefits. Only 23 percent of those polled believe that the government should fulfill this function. A large majority would prefer to see these conditions set by "the social partners," that is, unions and employers, rather than by the government. Is this what a biased poll would be expected to show? And what does it mean?

One possible interpretation is that most people, whether they regard the long-term unemployed as shirkers (which Marianne sees as the bias of the Right) or as victims vulnerable to being pressed into involuntary servitude by a heartless system, do not trust the state because they view politicians as vulnerable to pressure from both employers and unemployed. The social partners, respondents apparently assume, can at least be trusted to defend their own interests, whereas the politicians will pander to whichever group is most troublesome at the moment. This image of the state is a far cry from the august tradition of the public servant as neutral arbiter between contending social forces. This rejection of the state does not seem to be the exclusive province of either Left or Right, however. Both sides are distrustful, and both seem to believe that a bargain struck between adversaries is preferable to the decision of a supposedly neutral but in fact unreliable arbiter. If the poll is biased, it may exaggerate the degree to which the French believe that the unemployed are refusing "acceptable" offers of work, but it nevertheless reflects a disaffection from the state that seems to transcend the partisan divide.


Anonymous said...

I love a good close reading. Bravo.

Anonymous said...

"disaffection from the state that seems to transcend the partisan divide"--that well describes what seems to me one of the most prevalent and crippling factors in French political life.