French Presidential Elections 2012: The Last Week and Sarkozy Fades?

by George_East on April 15, 2012

This time next week French voters will be going to the polls in the first round of this year’s presidential elections.      When I last wrote about the race a few weeks back incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy had pulled back to level or even ahead in the first round polls with Socialist, Francois Hollande.    The causes of this come back appeared to be threefold. The Toulouse murders enabling Sarkozy to appear presidential and playing to one of his strongest issues: law and order.  Secondly, Hollande leaking votes to his left, as Left Front candidate, Jean-Luc Melanchon ran a barnstorming and charismatic campaign propelling him to the mid teens in the polls. Finally, the simple fact of the elections getting nearer concentrating voters’ minds.

The last week of March and the first week of this month saw a continuation of this trend with Sarkozy leading every poll in the first 10 days of April.  The run-off polls continued to show Hollande with a comfortable if tightening lead of 6-8 points.     Although the overall position favoured  Hollande, there were reasons to suggest that the election may be coming a month or two late for the current best hope for the European centre left.

Last week saw a further four opinion polls published by different polling companies.   In contrast to the polls earlier in April, three of these four showed Hollande back in the lead in the first round.   The fourth, published earliest, showed Sarkozy ahead by a single point.  The run-off polls also showed a marked shift away from the incumbent.  The poll that had Sarkozy ahead by a single point in the first round, had him down by 8 points in the run-off.  The polls that showed Hollande ahead in the first round, have him winning the run off by an astonishing 12-14 points.

What’s interesting about this clear movement in the polls is that it has occurred after a week of relentless scaremongering by Sarkozy and various leading financiers about the effect on the markets of a Hollande victory.    Hollande is running on a programme which promises re-negotiation of the Merkel driven recent European stability pact which otherwise promises austerity pretty much for ever.    He is also running on a programme which looks to the highest earners to make a far higher contribution to state coffers than they currently do, including a new top rate of tax of 75% for earnings of more than €1,000,000 per annum.  Feathers are being ruffled where they need to be.    It is this that makes the race have far greater importance for the European and first world global left generally.   Hollande is not running on a New Labour style programme.   A victory would send the message that the ultimately self-defeating ‘ever rightwards’ message is not the only way to electoral success.

The attempt by Sarkozy to frighten the voters seems to have resulted in a backlash.  There has also been the usual crass, grandstanding expected from Sarkozy.  This time in releasing footage of him having a video conference with President Obama.    The reaction in France to this cringe-worthy episode appears to be a mixture of embarrassment and anger.

There is still the clichéd long week in politics left before the main event gets underway, but the nerves for the French and European left of the last few weeks as the race narrowed are now a little less fraught.  If Hollande can pull off a victory in the first round, with a strong showing from Melanchon, it is difficult to see how he loses in the run-off.   If Hollande comes second in the first round Sarkozy will have ‘a come back’ narrative to exploit.      We at Allthatsleft will be looking across the channel next week with interest.

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