Friday, September 4, 2015

The Macron Paradox

Emmanuel Macron now enjoys a higher approval rating than any other Socialist. To be sure, he is approved by more on the right (63%) than on the left (45%), but his approval on the left is increasing despite his urging further reforms, which conventional wisdom says are unpopular among Socialist voters.

But perhaps these results aren't as paradoxical as they seem. Perhaps the way to think about this is to suggest that as the left-right distinction breaks down, the electorate is increasingly divided between two new camps: the angry, who despair of government entirely and want to throw the bums out (whether in the form of Mélenchon's "qu'ils s'en aillent tous" or Le Pen's derisive "UMPS"), and the pragmatic, who aren't sure what should be done but prefer leaders who state forthrightly and in some detail what they would like to do and persist in the face of opposition without trimming their sails to suit the prevailing winds.

For the pragmatic voter, Macron is exemplary. They know what he wants to do. They aren't sure it will work, but they're willing to let him experiment. If it fails, they'll move to another policy. What they can't stomach is the kind of politics Hollande exemplifies: impossible to pin down, forever shifting tactics, reluctance to persevere in the face of vocal opposition. Pragmatic voters want consistency and accountability above all.

If this is correct, the question of the hour is then, Do the pragmatic outnumber the angry? I don't know. What's your guess?

On the other hand, the two politicians with the highest approval ratings are Juppé (76%) and Sarkozy (66%). Sarkozy was extremely unpopular in the months before the 2012 election, and Juppé was in his way the Macron of his day, a pragmatic reformer willing to persist in the face of vocal opposition, yet he was ultimately sacrificed to angry protesters. So perhaps the truth is simply that voters are highly fickle. Sometimes they like you if you show backbone, other times they'll cut you down for standing droit dans vos bottes.


Michael Metz said...

I think you're onto something here, that Macron perhaps represents something of importance in the French political spectrum. The superficial irony of a former Rothschild investment banker now socialist economy minister maybe has more significance, indicative of a certain French political identity. You call it pragmatism but perhaps it is a French third way, a path between the socialism of France's past and the neoliberalism of the present west.

Mitch Guthman said...

What I said a few months ago about Valls is doubly true for Macron. A lot of people may profess to admire Macron's Tory sensibilities but what most people desperately want—and consistently vote for—are the Whig policies of Jaurès.

And it isn’t just a question of people being angry. Yes, they are angry that France no longer has influence in Europe. They are angry about austerity and the devastating effect it is having on Europe. But their anger has been more focused than you are willing to acknowledge. The Socialist Party that embraced austerity and abandoned the social welfare state has suffered a series of crushing defeats and almost certainly won't feature in the second round of the next presidential election.

Who has risen the most since the financial crisis of 2008? It isn’t the UMP and it isn’t Sarkozy. It isn't even Juppé, who seems to be benefiting from an information republican front. No, it is the party that jettisoned its longstanding commitment to neoliberalism and its opposition to the social welfare state that rises, even as the PS under Hollande abandoned its commitment to those popular issues.

If Marine Le Pen becomes president she will owe a debt to three men in particular: Her father who let his daughter have a clear shot at his back. The feckless Hollande who burned the PS to the ground at the very moment of its triumph. And, of course, Jean Jaurès and his heirs on the left who are supplying much of the intellectual muscle for her very popular anti-austerity message.

And the PS yet again sticks with Hollande. Naturally, as a man of the center-left, I think France needs a party of the center-left and I had hoped that les frondeurs would oust Hollande and return the PS to being the party of Jean Jaurès. But apparently they are incapable and so perhaps Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s call for the frondeurs socialists to join with him is all that’s remains to the left. My hope is that Mélenchon understands that the PdG only has meaning as, essentially, the left wing of a much larger center-left party that can be a party of government and so that will be the ultimate goal of his efforts.

But Macron has shown me nothing. He poses and preens in the media but his only concrete proposal so far is to make shopkeepers give up their Sundays. But without economic growth, the French economy will stagnate and decline—where is Macron’s opposition to the catastrophic austerity that causes so much difficulty for Europe and France? Where is Macron’s support for his supposed fellow lefties in Greece? From what I can see, Macron is all hat and no cattle.

FrédéricLN said...

answering to the post — my guess is, the angry and the pragmatic are generally the same people. And what all of them can't stomach is actually "the kind of politics Hollande exemplifies: impossible to pin down, forever shifting tactics, reluctance to persevere in the face of vocal opposition."

I would guess they are together 60 of the French (maybe less than 50% of voters — as many of the angry don't vote, because it does not change anything, and many of the pragmatic don't vote, because it does not change anything).

In front of them, maybe 40% of conservatives, in the meaning of: "despite all mumble and criticism, the conditions we have today are not so bad, compared to what could happen — any change would be for worse".

They are equally distributed between PS voters and UMP/LR voters. Within the small circle of card-carrying members, many of them are also in satellite parties, UDI, PRG, (formerly) EELV, and the like. Many of conservatives anyway have some relationship with some insiders — town councilors, party members, "comité des fêtes" or others — and may loyally vote where there address book lies.

Across people you will meet if your are in politics presently, >90% are conservatives in this meaning. Only on election day can you see the others, the angry and the pragmatic, coming. Often they just don't greet the chairman of the polling station. Some of them won't even look at you — rather at the ground. They walk fast and leave fast, because they have to work on Sunday, or they go to their country home — anyway they have to do in real life. You hear their number at 8pm. But much more of the like didn't even come to vote.

My 2 cents ;-)

James Conran said...

Just to clarify: Sarkozy is the second most popular politician only amongs right of centre voters - among voters as a whole he is more unpopular (34% positive v 63% negative) than any politician except Marine Le Pen (and possibly Hollande, though the question asked for the heads of the executive is not the same as for the other "personalities").

Juppe is the only politician with an approval rating greater than 50% and Francois Fillon is more popular (or less unpopular) than NS.

The full poll numbers are here: