Thursday, April 19, 2012

Looking Ahead to Sunday

Polling will soon be blacked out, so we are near our final glimpse at what the pollsters think the French will do on Sunday. The candidates fall neatly into four tiers: Hollande and Sarkozy virtually neck and neck at about 28 apiece, give or take a point; Mélenchon and Le Pen also neck and neck at around 15; Bayrou by himself in the third tier at 10; and a fourth tier comprising the rest of the field, who will split 4 or 5 percent of the vote among them, so they are non-factors.

So the serious cleavage this year is not between the right and the left but between the first and second tiers. The second-tier candidates both reject the status quo vis-à-vis globalization, Europe, the euro, financial capitalism, etc. They are resisters. The first-tier candidates, despite their differences of emphasis, are adapters. And Bayrou calls them all on dishonesty: he (rightly) insists that the first-tier candidates are not coming clean about their commitments while assailing the second-tier candidates for the irrealism of their proposals.

The fly in the ointment is the large number of undecided voters and self-declared abstainers who may in the end decide to go to the polls: as many as 32% of the the voters fall into this group, an unusually high figure for France, and if they change their minds and vote massively in favor of one candidate or another, Sunday could hold a surprise in store. But this seems unlikely. The abstainers are motivated, I think, by a general dislike of how things have gone over the past five years, so they're not likely to break massively for Sarkozy, and Hollande, with his low-profile campaign, has not given them a reason to think that his government will differ significantly from Sarkozy's except in style, in which respect it will mark a sharp break with current practice. But that's not likely to turn out the disaffected.

So I think that Sunday's result will put Sarkozy and Hollande into the second round, where current polling gives Hollande an almost insuperable advantage. The fear factor does not seem to be jelling into an anti-leftist backlash. Indeed, the Right's effort to portray Hollande as a weak-kneed milquetoast oddly undermines the simultaneous effort to revive fears of a "Socialo-Communist putsch" that will fill the place de la Concorde with workers carrying pikes and calling for the guillotine. A larger than expected Mélenchon vote might alarm a few excitable provincials, but the friends and colleagues of the Mélenchonistes know that most of them are schoolteachers and civil servants committed more to social justice than to hanging the last aristocrat from the nearest lamp post in the bowels of the last priest. Vive la France révolutionnaire et éternelle.

And so François Hollande will become the next president of France without having spelled out very precisely what he intends to do about the most serious immediate problem, the euro crisis, or the most serious long-term problems, restoring French growth and competitiveness and integrating a society whose centrifugal tendencies have become increasingly evident. A 30% anti-Establishment vote is a serious problem for any society, but I think John Vinocur is a bit hyperbolic. Compare France and the US: if you estimate the strength of the Tea Party at 30% and the left-wing critics who think Obama is a Republican in disguise at 25%, you have a much larger "Rejectionist Front" in the US than in France.


Anonymous said...

But are the two (leftists and Tea partiers) really that many?

Although we can't know for sure who'll be first, it'd really surprise me if polls had been that wrong for so long. I wasn't here in 2002, were the polls as consistent as this (with the Sarkozy Hollande duel, both of them widely ahead of the others in the polls, have been for 4 months and with the next tier almost 10 percentage points behind? Or were they similar to the final results within 2-3%?)

I wonder how disenfranchised voters and "abstention" will affect the results though, since polls don't include those who don't plan on voting.

In any case, everyone'll know how it goes down at 6:30pm or so, since all foreign websites that report the election will have predicted results....

An interesting interview by the BBC - it illustrates nicely how little traction NS has. Seriously, look at what the guy who'll vote for him says... If that's a supporter, Ouch...

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

While Erlanger usually does a fine job, Vinocur is so often wrong in his appreciation of the country that I'm not sure it's even worth it to read what he writes.

I think the English speaking press better get acquainted with Hollande...
preferably within the next 3 days :)

Have you had questions about him, in Vegas, or about the reasons for Sarkozy's long slope downward?

Gauchet seems to believe the same thing as you do, that is, Sarkozy demeaned the 'fonction' too much.
He created a "tribe" around himself and used his money in a way that humiliated those who don't have any - the epitome being "si tas pas une rolex à 50 ans tas raté ta vie" by Séguéla, widely believed to be a sarkozyst maxim. I guess the Crillon story was the last drop though; what a STUPID blunder...

Unlike what I've heard in American circles, the people's rejection of Sarkozy has nothing to do with his "immigrant" background (and being of minor European nobility background with a catholic upbringing, most- outside the FN- don't perceive him as 'foreign') or his failure to pass the ENA entrance exam, which would have him dismissed by the elites for "not belonging". This might have played within a very small circle, but among "regular" people, many of whom don't quite understand what l'ENA is, this does not matter one bit.
As far as I can tell, the feeling is pretty unanimous, even on the right: people feel that Sarkozy deceived them; that he'd grabbed power for himself and his family/friends rather than to accomplish that for which he'd been elected, and that he humiliated them as their representative with a few actions that aren't worthy of a head of state (kowtowing to Qadaffi - he cut ancestral trees for him apparently, and was read to sell nuclear tech to him?; the "casse toi pauv' con; various other quips and would-be brawls...) He's not rejected because he's not part of the power circles as Cohen and Vinocur have repeated for the past 5 years. Rather, a term I've heard and not just on the left, is "abaissement de la république". This would probably bear a development and I'm sure that past May 6 it'll be developed :)