Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Will "Pas Voté" Win the First Round?

The abstainers may outnumber the supporters of the winning candidate in the first round of voting. That is the depressing finding of an IFOP poll, which predicts a sharp decline from the 84% participation rate of 2007:
Le sondage de l’Ifop publié dimanche dernier a mis le doigt sur le risque majeur de cette élection : le retour d’une abstention forte. Seuls 68% des électeurs se disent « certains d’aller voter ». Il est bien possible que, parmi les 32% restants, des hésitants se rendent finalement aux urnes. La certitude est néanmoins là, confirmée par d’autres indicateurs comme ceux de la Sofres : on sera loin des 84% de participation de 2007, très probablement en dessous des 78% de 1995, sans forcément descendre jusqu’aux 62,6% de 2002.
Philippe Guibert, the author of "Plaidoyer pour une gauche populaire," diagnoses a campaign that has failed to address the concerns of the popular classes. This has become a familiar refrain in a part of the left. It's the obverse of the critique that holds that the problem of many modern democracies, and not just France, is "populism," that is, a revolt of the popular classes based on a belief that the powers of government to oppose, thwart, or reverse potent economic forces is greater than it actually is and therefore a refusal to accept certain types of reform (the fight over retirement reform in France is a good example, but one can find equally telling examples in the United States with a right-wing political valence, such as the refusal to raise the debt ceiling).

The problem with Guibert's critique of the establishment left, and of other similar critiques, is that it assumes that "elites" could in fact address the concerns of "the popular classes" without compromising their own core beliefs. In short, it's clear that many voters are disaffected with "elite" solutions, but it's not at all clear what Guibert thinks should be done about that. More pandering and fudging, as Hollande has done with his pseudo-rollback of Sarkozy's retirement reform, which only changes the rules around the margins? In any case, here is his characterization of the failing of even the "populist" candidates of the extreme left and extreme right to mobilize the disillusioned:
Jean-Luc Mélenchon développe une très belle indignation, accompagnée d’une radicalisation dans les propositions sociales – Smic à 1 700 euros net et retraite à 60 ans pour tous. Mais cette radicalisation sociale semble ignorer l’ouverture de notre économie aux autres pays européens et aux émergents, alors qu’elle existe de façon bien réelle dans la vie des milieux populaires du privé. C’est sans doute pour cette raison qu’il ne parvient pas, pour l’instant, à effectuer de percée décisive dans le vote populaire, même si il y a gagné des points. A l’inverse, M Le Pen a construit sa campagne, elle, sur une radicalisation économique : sortie de l’euro et protectionnisme national. En y perdant en crédibilité personnelle et en oubliant du coup les « fondamentaux » de son électorat, immigration et islam. Depuis l’automne et la velléité de référendum grec, les Français sont massivement favorables, à près de 85%, à l’euro : le retour au franc a nettement reculé dans l’opinion, tout particulièrement dans les milieux populaires et ce sont les Grecs qu’on verrait bien sortir de l’euro...
He's right that Mélenchon simply ignores France's deep implication in the global economy. I don't quite know what to say about his contention that Marine Le Pen is losing ground because she forgets "the fundamentals" of her base, "immigration and Islam." Would he have her take an even harder line on these subjects? What would our neo-populist social critic recommend?

So, is the problem politicians who are not worthy of "the people," or a "people" reluctant to face the harsh realities of a changing world? Sometimes the call for a more radical approach is really a call for a more intransigent conservatism. Sarkozy actually recognized this in 2007, when he organized his campaign around the concept of "rupture" and "overcoming all conservatisms." This year, however, he has given in to the "populist" diagnosis that his advisor Patrick Buisson shares in many ways with Philippe Guibert. And to judge by the high forecast abstention rate, this strategic choice has only demobilized the target audience, which doesn't believe in his change of heart.


Merlin said...

What you don't seem to realise is that UMP and PS are the two sides of the same "middle classes" coin.

All policies since Giscard have adressed middle classes concerns only. They have destroyed the institutionnal framework and they have cristallized the protection of the already well protected at the expense of the less well endowed.

The only people for instance that could enjoy la retraite a 60 ans or les 35 heures are the civil servants and the protected cadres moyens of large corporates.

Today les classes populaires are worse off than in the early 70's and this has nothing to do with mondialisation, but a lot with a shift of the burden from protected middle classes towards classes populaires.

As they are menial jobs that have to be done, jobs that cannot be 100% above the lines, jobs that are "indigne" and that les classes populaires are refusing, not because they are lazy, but because they want to be treated decently even if the work is hard and even if the pay is low, then you import masses of low skilled, low educated immigrants ready to work as slaves. But not their children and what is in store is a revolt of the slaves' children..

Hollande and Sarkozy cannot do anything, but tinkering at the edges, because that would affect their customers. In my view, Sarkozy is the one who understand the issue best.

Melenchon is just the representative of the protected low middle classes who starts to get a bit of their own medecine because the system, based on debt, is unsustainable and is peeling like an onion.

Root and branch reform is required.

Passerby said...

Most people who sociologists would classify as "working class", when asked, define themselves as "middle class".
"La conscience prolétaire" disappeared, the best pay off for mainstream politicians is to talk about "middle class".

Anonymous said...

Well, if you're interested in non-elite politicians, you ought to watch Des Paroles Et Des Actes' last interview, with Phillipe Poutou. The journalists were terribly condescending to him and he was the only one subjected to a "personality film" about himself. There was a perceptible sense of "cultural gap". And Poutou was just... refreshing. I dont believe in what he said but when he concluded "I didn't even prepare anything", you can believe him. I really liked "ça fait 8 mois que j'me fais chier dans cette campagne et j'suis tout seul, j'ai pas mes copains", "on séquestre en groupe..." (can't remember how exactly that came up- each time I hear that I can't help but chuckle) and "J'ai pas entendu des voix, moi, j'ai pas 'rdv avec le peuple' ". Also he broke the NASCAR speed limits with words. I think France has found a worthy successor to their former pet candidate Arlette LAguillier. I suppose some people actually vote for them because they agree but I'm quite sure some only vote because they're kind of endearing in their belief they'll destroy capitalism. :)

Anonymous said...

And, oh, between the evening news and the program, we had this: api.dmcloud.net/player/pubpage/4e7345aa94a6f677ac0005f9/4f85d4b206361d40e6000191/11328a289b7045a289dca96fd365a359

Perhaps Poutou'll break the 1% threshold with his latest performance, which I believe was totally intentional (just like the video is a parody of a popular tv game.)
I mean that he wasn't a klutz, he was making people laugh with him, always a good thing, and he was spontaneous in a manner that didn't contradict his "persona".
His "sympathy credits" went up due to some journalists' behavior, like when they ambushed him with the little film; also, some of the journalists' tricks were annoying (one of them acted so strange with him that someone told me she'd just met her first real-life working class person and found him exotic and all kinds of 'different'. It was cringe-worthy.)
For all that, he's the only one who got a round of applause - and I'm pretty sure not many people, if any, believe in "anti-capitalism".