Monday, June 18, 2012

The Center Did Not Hold--or Did It?

Not only did François Bayrou lose his seat, but the center parties generally succumbed to the logic of a presidential system and its strong tendency to become biplar. But perhaps Hollande deserves more credit for this than he's generally given. His "centrist" approach to his candidacy, along with Socialist dominance of government at the local and regional levels, has weakened centrist fears of the Left. Just as the line between extreme-right and right has become increasingly blurred, so, too, has the line between center and center-left.

There may be a sociological basis to this result as well. The Socialist Party is no longer a workers' party. Most of the "workers" it retains are in fact public sector employees: schoolteachers, government workers, etc. Socially liberal professionals are plentiful in both Socialist and centrist ranks. Many of these people do not share the anti-EU, anti-globalization sentiments of either the extreme right or the extreme light, and they are put off not only by the droitisation of the center right but also by its crass pursuit of wealth (the bling-bling factor) to the exclusion of other cultural values.

Throughout the campaign, and indeed throughout the past five years, I argued that the 2012 election would be won in the center. My confidence in that interpretation wavered after the presidential, because 1) Sarkozy made a stronger showing than he should have if the center had really deserted him, and 2) I think Hollande won because the extreme right came to detest Sarkozysme as much as it has always detested the Left. But the legislative election makes me wonder if, indeed, France may have become a country where the majority is now in the broad center, which stretches from, roughly speaking, Hamon to Bayrou.

Interestingly, this very diverse "broad centrist" electorate may be easier to please when the issues are rather fragmented, as they are in a legislative election, than in a presidential election where a few high-cleavage issues tend to dominate the discussion, and where personal characteristics of the candidates ("the incarnation factor") loom large.

So perhaps I was right all along to think that France is now a country in which the center is trying hard to hold, and succeeding, even if the self-proclaimed "centrist" party(ies) fared quite poorly.


Louis said...

"Le Parti socialiste, rénové en 1971, attire tout particulièrement ces catégories jeunes, citadines, instruites, détachées de la pratique religieuse, sensibles aux valeurs post-soixante-huitardes et rebutées tant par l’ouvriérisme du PCF que par le conservatisme des partis de droite."


As a student, I was once presented the PS as "le parti des facteurs et des enseignants". That was in 1996.

Le parti des facteurs et des instituteurs... When was that?

FrédéricLN said...

Louis has it right, but the PS is rather now the party of municipal councilors. Their success lies in the development of local public services based on steadily growing local taxes. The general public mind is much in favor of local investment since the 90's at least, even at the expense of high taxes.

A "home, sweet home" line that might be related to the popularity of FN: a stronger local identification, a more visible public service (red flowers everywhere and local policemen) — at the moment when factories and jobs fly away.

I still think that the 2012 vote for Hollande and PS is conservative by essence: Hollande might be more trusted that our former "Président des riches" for his willingness to defend the French society and the "avantages acquis" against the huge globalization hurricane.

Under this respect, the PS vote may have been a centrist one, as far as centrist would mean "cautious, non-ideological, non-arrogant" or even "shy".

In this perspective, it would be quite logical that the Center parties, and Bayrou himself, fail in their attempts to raise support, as trusting new leaders and new parties would not have been a conservative choice at all.