Monday, April 2, 2012

The Equal Time Rules

If you've been watching French TV over the past few weeks, you may have noticed a rather strange phenomenon: just as the campaign swings into high gear, the TV coverage has descended into a whirlwind of "campaign diaries" (e.g., a 15-second per candidate photo montage that takes you from Arthaud to Sarkozy en passant par Poutou and Cheminade), punctuated by interviews in which each of the candidates appears at the anchor's side for a few minutes of heart-to-heart. What you're not getting is any in-depth analysis or detailed coverage of the leading candidates. Blame the CSA. In case you're confused about the equal-time rules, here's a quick rundown. We are now in phase two of the gradually tightening noose, and the absurd results are there for all to see.

Liberté, égalité, fraternité: it's a fine trinity, but there are times when the insistence on strict "equality" has truly perverse effects, and this is one of them. Jacques Cheminade's candidacy is a joke, and yet there he is, holding forth to half a dozen people on a streetcorner in Trouville-sur-Néant, as though this "meeting" were as significant an event as Sarkozy's mammoth affair in Villepinte. Who's kidding whom? Last night on France2, one could enjoy Philippe Poutou telling a reporter that "campaigning is more tiring than working" in a Renault factory, which might not be exactly the message you would expect to hear from the candidate of the New Anticapitalist Party but which somehow seemed less important than having a reporter try to press Hollande on what exactly his strategy for "renegotiating" the recent Eurozone agreement on budget discipline would be. But you can't have that, because then you'd have to hear Dupont-Aignan, Joly, Arthaud, and Cheminade at similar length.

Surely the absurdity of this system is patent. So why is there not more clamor to do something about it?

The Front de Gauche

Gérard Grunberg suggests that the Front de Gauche has accomplished two things: it has recaptured much of the extreme left vote that evaporated in 2007 (perhaps in reaction to the debacle of 2002, when the extreme left sapped the Socialist vote in the first round sufficiently to allow J.-M. Le Pen to surpass Lionel Jospin), and it has "destroyed" the Trotskyist parties. Of course a similar analysis was made of the Sarkozy vote in 2007: he had absorbed the extreme right and "destroyed" the Front National. Ideologies are more tenacious than volatile party politics. Nevertheless, Grunberg's analysis is useful:
Par ailleurs, sans vouloir minimiser la poussée électorale du Front de Gauche, il faut cependant mettre en perspective les intentions de vote actuelles de Jean-Luc Mélenchon avec l’évolution du pourcentage des voix en faveur des candidats de la gauche non socialiste aux élections présidentielles précédentes. Aujourd’hui, l’ensemble des candidats de cette gauche totalise aux environs de 18% des suffrages. Cette proportion était de 11% en 2007 mais de 22% en 2002, 17% en 1995, 11% en 1988 et 21% en 1981. La véritable nouveauté consiste moins, au moins pour l’instant, en un véritable progrès de la gauche non socialiste qu’en la polarisation des électeurs proches de cette gauche sur un seul candidat. En effet, en prenant en compte également la candidate écologiste, les intentions de vote en faveur de Jean-Luc Mélenchon représentent plus de 80% de l’ensemble de celle-ci. Ici est la véritable nouveauté dont les conséquences pourraient être importantes.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon réussira-t-il à l’avenir à stabiliser un électorat d’extrême-gauche significatif lui permettant de peser véritablement sur la vie politique ? C’est possible, mais pas certain compte-tenu de la forte volatilité de cet électorat. Mais de toutes manières, le mode de scrutin législatif actuel lui donne de toutes manière peu de chances de traduire cette poussée en nombre de sièges parlementaires. Il est donc probable que le Front de gauche demandera une modification du mode de scrutin. Encore faudrait-il être certain que le Parti communiste, qui conserve quelques fiefs, la souhaite vraiment.