Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Hollande's Unpopularity

It's been quite a dramatic fall, and there's no sign that it's stopping. Hollande's presidency is now disapproved by 73% of voters. 94% of UMP voters disapprove, perhaps not surprising, but so do 80% of "workers" and 70% of Greens.

The odd thing is that this massive disapproval does not seem to be associated with the kind of widespread fulmination, loathing, and mockery that accompanied Sarkozy's fall from grace. The French don't hate Hollande; they just don't think he's up to the job. This judgment is no doubt unfair. The job that citizens want the president to accomplish is clearly impossible. But one can imagine another president doing a better job of explaining things, clarifying his choices, mapping out future directions, accounting for past misperceptions and failures. Something isn't clicking between Hollande and his public. The rise of the Front National, apparently confirmed by the voting in Villeneuve-sur-Lot, is just one symptom of a wider malaise.

The danger is that Hollande now has no cushion. If he does finally act forcefully, as he has threatened to do in regard to pension reform, he will provoke opposition. His prime minister is such a pallid figure that he provides no protection for the president. All anger will be directed at him, and he has no way to deflect it.

Detailed Analysis of Villeneuve-sur-Lot

This marvelously detailed analysis of voting in Villeneuve-sur-Lot is the best I have seen. Would that one had instant analyses of this sort for every election.

The ‘republican front’ strategy has been challenged and almost thoroughly discredited since 2010. On the one hand, the UMP no longer automatically endorses the left against the FN and many UMP leaders - Copé first and foremost – have had ambiguous statements on all this. The UMP nowadays tends to prefer the ni ni strategy – neither the left nor the FN – although the party remains split between a moderate faction of the ruling elite which still has sympathy for the ‘republican front’ and a more conservative activist base which has a large minority favouring open electoral alliances with the FN. The PS, meanwhile, still has a preference for the ’republican front’ but the UMP’s strategy has unnerved it, to the point where some local PS candidates will endorse neither the UMP nor the FN. Recently, there were allegations that the PS in the Vaucluse covertly supported FN candidate (now deputy) Marion Maréchal-Le Pen by not withdrawing its candidate from the three-way runoff in which Marion Maréchal-Le Pen emerged victorious.
Finally, the continuation of a ’republican front’ strategy tends to play right into the FN’s hand. A large part of Marine Le Pen’s rhetoric is denouncing the corrupt ‘UMPS’ elites – a message incessantly regurgitated by her new circle of obedient young leaders and candidates, including the FN candidate in this constituency. A ‘republican front’ between UMP and PS can easily be presented by the FN as ‘proof’ that both parties are, in reality, two sides of the same coin and are in cahoots with one another. And neither the UMP nor the PS try very hard to disprove that – PS deputies recently found common cause with UMP deputies in significantly watering down the government’s post-Cahuzac transparency and ethics legislation.
As in the Oise-2, this by-election has shown two things – the PS is unpopular and faces an electoral drubbing if these numbers hold up in a national election; the FN is the only political force in the country which is truly on the upswing and it has proven that it has a remarkable ability to gain significant support from one round to another in duel runoffs. The cordon sanitaire is – in good part – gone. The FN has a far less ‘toxic’ image. Marine Le Pen’s dédiabolisation efforts are paying off, and many voters – left and right – are willing to vote for the FN over a more ‘acceptable’ party in the runoff when their preferred candidate is eliminated. We cannot treat voters as mathematical, rational and predictable individuals who can be expected to follow the directions given by their party of choice. Despite the strong enmity between national PS and FN leadership, there is some overlap between both parties. Some left-wing voters will prefer the FN over the right when faced with that choice.