News: Sarkozy Down But Certainly Not Out

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President trails after first round, but proof will be in the second poll

After the first round of voting, Socialist candidate François Hollande is in poll position with a score of 28.6% of the vote. Current president Nicolas Sarkozy is a close second with 27.1%. This means that all the other candidates are eliminated and Sarkozy and Hollande will go to a two-man vote-off on May 6th.

Despite the narrowness of the gap between the two leading candidates, most of Europe’s big titles have been quick to call it as a fait accompli for Hollande: In London, the Times announces that Sarkozy is “staring defeat in the face” and that he will “need a miracle” in order to survive this political uppercut from his socialist rival. The Guardian, meanwhile, says that Hollande is “on the crest of a leftist wave”. Over in Germany, Der Spiegel puts the voting down to a “vote of rage” – a reaction to the fairly poor economic situation in France and the perceived failure of Sarko to deal with the situation. In Belgium, Le Soir says that Hollande has “one foot in the Elysée Palace”.

While there’s no doubt that Hollande holds the upper hand going into the decisive round, a more detailed analysis of how the vote went for the other candidates paints a more complex and inconclusive picture:

First-round voting figures from the 2012 French Presidential Election (source: Ministry of the Interior & Le Figaro newspaper)

The third-placed candidate was the Front National leader Marine Le Pen. Daughter of the founder of the far-right party, Le Pen presents a more reasonable and logical political animal than her father. Her score of over 18% of the vote nationally represents a significant bloc of voters – the vast majority of whom, one would assume, will be voting for Sarkozy in the next round.

The other important detail to remember from the first round is that the next-best placed candidate was communist Jean-Luc Mélenchon with over 11% of first-preference votes. Between him and Hollande, there seems to be a strong swing to the left – something that has been evident for some time in France with growing disillusionment prevalent in a society unimpressed by the economic liberalism of the man once dubbed “Sarko L’Américain”. For many, a return to the left is a return to the past and to the sense of socialist cohesion that a lot of French hold dear to their hearts and for which they have won many admirers abroad. On the other hand, there is the feeling that France’s brand of social welfare state is outdated in a world where the more American model appears to have won over in a global sense.

The presidential vote in France represents thus, (and as usual) a sort-of test market for the right/left political divide in Europe. If France votes socialist, there’s a good chance that other European nations will swing to the aile rouge too, as happened 30 years ago when Mitterand took the top job in a wave of left-wing euphoria.

Finally, a thought for the absent. In the first round, there was a turnout of just under 80%. The 20% or so that didn’t bother casting a vote in the first round could well play a deciding role come May 6th. The apathetic are, generally speaking, inclined towards voting against those in power. If this is true, then their ability to be spurred on to vote should swing it for Hollande. But… a word of caution: In the last presidential election of 2007, Hollande’s former wife – the delectable Ségolène Royal – scored 26%. It’s dangerously close to what Hollande has now and amongst the right-wing candidates being eliminated, the Front National has almost twice the level it had last time round.

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