Saturday, November 22, 2008

Besancenot by Pingaud

A review of a book on the "Besancenot phenomenon" by Denis Pingaud can be found here. The curiosity here is that Pingaud is vice-president of OpinionWay, the polling firm that Ségolène Royal accused of a systematic tilt toward Sarkozy. Besancenot is presented as almost a creature of polling. It was because he polled well, we are told, that the LCR, of which he was a little-noticed adherent until the 2002 election, chose to make him its candidate, whereupon he made what Pascal Perrineau calls the delicate transition from "polling popularity" to "electoral popularity." But at the same time the 2002 vote for the LCR candidate is described as an "influence vote," that is, a message sent by disgruntled voters to the PS leadership that it was unhappy with the politics they had on offer.

I'm not sure whether the intention here is to inflate or deflate Besancenot. Are we supposed to infer that unhappy voters simply searched for the gauchiste with the best poll numbers in order to send the loudest possible message to Solférino? There was no dearth of options for expressing a protest vote in 2002. Or perhaps the book is simply a reminder that the PS had best take seriously the exit option that was exercised by so many of its potential supporters in 2002 and 2007. Besancenot is there to pick up the chips that the PS seems determined to leave on the table. Last night's debacle makes the warning all the more timely.

Of course it may also be that increasing numbers of Socialists are turning to Besancenot not simply as a protest or coup de semonce but as a genuine option: Sire, ce n'est pas une révolte, c'est une révolution. The times may well lend themselves to such a radicalization. Or then again--ultimate possibility--it may be that the vice-president of an allegedly right-wing polling firm sees an opportunity to deepen division on the left by magnifying le phénomène Besancenot that he himself argues polling and publicity helped to create. It has often been suggested that Sarkozy has an interest in building up Besancenot and has encouraged his sympathizers in the media to do just that. It's Mitterrand and the Front National in reverse--so goes the theory.

Yes, a conspiracy theory, some will scoff -- but what would politics be without a little conspiracy? Pingaud's book is reviewed, however, by Thierry Germain, the editor of Esprit critique, the journal of the Fondation Jean Jaurès, which can hardly be suspected of either Trotskyite or Sarkozyste sympathies, and the review is published as well by, of which the same can be said. Germain sees Pingaud's book as rather a plea addressed to the leaders of the PS: the "Besancenot effect" is real and must be seriously addressed or the party will suffer another defeat in 2012.

A timely warning indeed, although at the moment the PS seems well on the way to defeating itself in 2012 without any help from Besancenot.


Anonymous said...

I'm inclined to think that Besancenot's popularity - as a genuine electoral option for many - can be attributed to the inroads of the "altermondialiste" movement from the late 1990s to the early 2000. Despite tailing off relatively speaking since, oh around 2003 and the anti-war protests (which weren't against the global economic order), you had a lot of under-40 year old leftists saying "that's my kind of Leftism". Whereas the Communists were (and still are and forever will be) "ringards", or crusty old fogeys. And the Socialists had an attitude of being a bit put off by the main moments of the altermondialistes like Seattle & Genoa.

I think there's more the Besancenot phenomenon than mere polling tactics. Right guy at right time, basically, imo.

Chris P.

Unknown said...

Good point.

brent said...

Though I haven't picked up the book yet, my observations of the NPA in formation lead me to believe that the 'Besancenot-phénomène', title and concept, misplaces the emphasis. As the presider at my local NPA committee meeting remarked a few days ago, "Le NPA n'est pas Olivier Besancenot." The remark was not derogatory: the point is rather that the NPA is trying very hard to become the party that gathers a sizeable fraction of the social movement activists, disillusioned PC and left PS militants, and so on, to construct a base; otherwise Besancenot will continue to poll high in favorability but uselessly low in actual votes. The media will do what it can to isolate him from that base, while the activists are hard at work making the connections-with results that may become visible next June.