On One Hand

May 1, 2007

French Election Heats Up

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 2:06 pm
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The 2007 French presidential election is building in intensity as voters from the Left and Right rise up against Nicolas Sarkozy, the Conservative front-runner who is otherwise almost six points ahead in election forecasts.

Sarkozy has enjoyed a consistent lead in public opinion polls, most recently scoring 53 points to Socialist party opponent Segolene Royal‘s 47. Sarkozy has not dropped below 51 percent support in polls since the first round of voting on April 22 selected him to face Royal in the final contest.

But centrist Francois Bayrou – who came in third with 18.5 percent of the first-round vote and is more popular in the nation overall than Sarkozy – has appeared publicly in debates with Royal, linking the two together. Royal softened her criticism of Bayrou’s ideas and even said that she might support Bayrou for Prime Minister if she won the presidency. Earlier, Royal had mentioned supporting another popular moderate for the French PM, indicating at least a partial commitment to appeal to centrism after arriving in office. Bayrou initially declined to endorse Royal, criticizing both frontrunners, but has more recently focused his criticism on Sarkozy. This possible alliance has not influenced polls yet, but may give Royal a tiny bounce if it becomes more apparent.

Royal was behind Sarkozy by 6 points in the first vote, so would need more than two thirds of Bayrou’s supporters to win on May 6, and is currently not expected to get enough votes (polls give her 44 percent of Bayrou’s voters while Sarkozy is getting 33 percent). But with an improved alliance between the moderate Left and a Centrist, there is potential for voters to re-allign before Sunday’s election. One in 5 French voters still claims to be undecided.

Sarkozy is also facing challenges from the Right. Far-Right nationalist Jean-Marie Le Pen, who got about 11 percent of the initial vote, just called on his supporters to boycott the May 6 election, refusing to support either Sarkozy or Royal. Because Le Pen is a far-right icon, his first-round voters poll heavily toward Sarkozy, and even a partial boycott could be enough to challenge Sarkozy’s current 6-point lead.

To many French voters, Sarkozy is sort of a George W. Bush figure, being generally disliked by political adversaries and moderates but still favored over his opponent. He is openly pro-American, while opponent Segolene Royal has nuanced that she is pro-American but not pro-Bush. Mirroring the 2004 Presidential election in the United States, the French election is a referendum on the frontrunner, and “anybody but Sarkozy” voters make up a substantial portion of Royal’s camp – voters who have repeatedly compared Sarkozy to America’s dear W. Also similar to the U.S. election is Royal’s support abroad, where polls in almost every European country outside France chose her over Sarkozy for her accepting approach to outsiders. Royal also beat Sarkozy in most voting French protectorates and opinion polls around the world, except in the United States. Sarkozy’s France-first nationalism and anti-immigrant platforms have cost him support among foreigners and ethnic minorities, but French Conservatives worrying about the influx of Muslims in France are rewarding him for it.



  1. When you say that Royal can get the better of Bayrou’s voters because they appeared publicly in debates together, do you mean debates where they opposed each other? I haven’t followed the second round campaigning, so I was confused on that point.

    Comment by jdhenchman — May 1, 2007 @ 9:54 pm | Reply

    • They did oppose each other in debates, but Royal ended up agreeing with many of Bayrou’s policies and she suggested him as a possible PM. She has said repeatedly that she will support a moderate. Meanwhile, Bayrou has refused to endorse Royal but openly criticizes Sarkozy much more intensely, and has softened off on Royal. Whether this is more of an “alliance” or just a temporary attempt to make the Socialist platform even more centrist than it is, is yet to be seen; we’ll see if Bayrou makes a more direct endorsement in the coming weeks.

      Comment by ononehand — May 1, 2007 @ 10:50 pm | Reply

  2. Oh

    a George W. Bush figure, being generally disliked by political adversaries and moderates but still favored over his opponent.

    I find it kind of hard to label anyone a “George W. Bush figure” since his perception has no doubt changed over time. (Or a Nixon or an LBJ for that matter.) The one exception I would make is if his personality traits or political positions are similar, and that’s not the case except in the most tangential way.

    It’s especially problematic today since GWB is generally disliked by practically everyone, so painting someone as “the next GWB” is as empty as it is easy. If we’re talking about 2000 GWB or 2004 GWB, I’d argue that the “disliked by adversaries and moderates but preferred over the other guy” descriptor is just as applicable to any presidential candidate, such as (B) Clinton or Kerry or Gore or Giuliani. Not Dole though.

    Comment by jdhenchman — May 1, 2007 @ 10:01 pm | Reply

    • Re: Oh

      Everyone I’ve talked to who voted for Bush did so without liking him. That is partially true for both elections but much more true for the second one. Of course, the people I am talking to are moderates, but since people on the Left and Right usually like anyone representing the Left and Right it’s the moderates that are the only useful group of people to describe.

      I don’t know if I would say Clinton was generally “disliked.” His approval rating went up and down, which happens during every second term, but I think we can all sense that Bush is in a different league. Bush’s approval rating was very low even before the 2004 election but only picked up right before November as people begrudgingly decided to vote for him and liked him briefly while they carried that resolve. We also know it plummeted right after he was re-elected.

      This isn’t so much an original observation as it is a postulation put out by political analysts in the UK and other parts of Europe. Sarkozy is being compared to Bush by a lot of people. They’re doing it in much the same way they compare Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, even though you can probably find characteristics that differ. Sarkozy is more articulate than Bush, to be certain. He’s also accused of being secretive, non-transparent, and tolerated at home but very disliked elsewhere.

      Comment by ononehand — May 1, 2007 @ 10:58 pm | Reply

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