Sunday, April 22, 2007

The 2007 French Presidential Election

By Michael J.W. Stickings

(Updated with results here.)

So today's the day the French go to the polls to elect their next president. (The Age of Chirac is over.) To be more precise, the French go to the polls in the first round of the French presidential election. If no candidates receives over 50 percent of the vote -- an outright majority -- the top two candidates will face each other in a second, run-off election on May 6.

I examined the race closely two weeks ago, and not much has changed. Polls from the past week show Sarkozy with a lead over Royal of as much as seven points. Still, a poll from Friday has him up by only a single point. Bayrou continues to lag behind in third place, a few points back of Royal, with Le Pen fourth. So it looks like there will be a Sarkozy-Royal showdown next month -- "Sarko-Ségo" is what it's already being called.

Or perhaps not. As Reuters is reporting, there are "millions of undecided voters," perhaps "up to a third of France's 44.5 million voters". There's no telling which way these undecideds will go. If neither Sarkozy nor Royal has managed to win them over yet, they could flock to Bayrou, a solid centrist candidate. Still, it seems likely that Sarkozy and Royal will move on.

Polls put Sarkozy ahead of Royal in a second-round vote, but the same poll that puts Sarkozy up by one over Royal in the first round has a 50-50 tie in the second. With Sarkozy on the right and Royal on the left, one imagines that the second round would be decided by voters in the center, assuming that both sides are able to mobilize their supporters. (Turnout has been about 80 percent for recent presidential elections; this, too, could be a factor.) What is interesting is that polls put Bayrou well ahead of both Sarkozy and Royal in terms of second round votes. If Bayrou is somehow able to leap over Royal, he could very well win the presidency. With Sarkozy seeking the rightist vote (see below), Bayrou could win both the center and the left, especially if Royal were to throw her support behind him.

I'm no fan of Sarkozy -- I find his law-and-order demagoguery rather off-putting -- so I would prefer a Royal-Bayrou match up in the second round. But this seems unlikely. I'm afraid Sarkozy's spot in the second round is more or less assured. So it comes to this: who can beat him? Either one, perhaps, but Bayrou could be the more formidable opponent. Yes, this is an anyone-but-Sarkozy way of looking at the election, but it's not so much that as the forward-looking strategy that comes with any two-round system. (By the way, it's not anyone but Sarkozy for me. I'd take anyone over Le Pen.)

So... Go Bayrou? Sure, why not?

Here's how he described himself in a recent NYT piece, quoted here: "I am a democrat, I am a Clintonian, I am a man of the 'third way'."

Sounds good to me.

(My predictions: Sarkozy 29, Royal 21, Bayrou 18, Le Pen 15.)

**********

Stuff to read:

-- Newsweek: Eric Pape looks at Sarkozy's appeal to the far right, especially in Marseilles, the heartland of Le Pen's xenophobic, bigoted National Front. (If he secures some of Le Pen's rightist support, as well as the undecided rightist vote, he will run away with the first round. But at what cost? Like Republicans running to the right to win their party's primaries (for example, Giuliani and McCain), Sarkozy could lose the center to a unified opposition in the second round.)

-- The Washington Post: John Ward Anderson and Molly Moore look at the key paradox of this election. French voters both "demand" change and "fear" it. (France is currently mired in a state of self-critical malaise. The word for it is "declinism". And over the past couple of years it has witnessed riots in the suburbs and barricades in Paris, expressions of violence and protest that suggest widespread national disease. The French seem to know they need new direction, but there is hardly consensus on which direction to take. Hence, one suspects, all those undecideds, as well as what looks to be a close and competitive election.)

-- Salon: Elisabeth Franck-Dumas looks at how the Napoleonic Sarkozy is a lot like Giuliani: "Sarkozy seems to have modeled his political persona on his American counterpart. He is tough on crime, prone to polarizing the public, and tosses off ready-made solutions to the host of ills that ail France." (In other words, as I mentioned above, rightist law-and-order demagoguery. Just as Giuliani is courting the religious right despite his own liberal past and centrist leanings, Sarkozy is looking for support among Le Pen's rightist mob.)

-- The New Republic (sub. req.): David Bell looks at the "immeasurables," such as "what will the large number of undecided voters do" and "who has been lying to the pollsters". In the past, voters have often lied about not supporting Le Pen, which has mean a Le Pen "bump" come election time. Could that happen this time? "In the last few days, Le Pen has started deriding the half-Hungarian Sarkozy as 'not French enough'." If Le Pen holds off Sarkozy on the far right, his "bump" could boost him up to third, ahead of Bayrou. Otherwise, a key demographic may turn out to be the French version of David Brooks's famous "bobos," the bohemian bourgeois. If enough of them vote for Arlette Laguiller on the far left, Royal could suffer. (Bell does not predict this, but it's a possibility. And, again, we could very well be in for a surprise.)

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