Analysis: The anti-Sarkozy wall

It is unlikely the French president will be victorious in next week’s election.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy 370 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/France Television)
French President Nicolas Sarkozy 370 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/France Television)
PARIS – On June 6, 1944, the Germans were convinced that “the Atlantic Wall” they constructed on the sea, from Northern Europe to the Iberian Peninsula, was impassable. Nevertheless, General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s allied troops landed at dawn on the Normandy beaches, broke through and started a swift campaign, reaching all the way to Berlin within months.
The question asked now less and less within the French political classes is: Will Sarkozy’s UMP troops, comprising the right-wing party in power, be able to break through the concrete wall positioned in front of their presidential candidate? In Paris and elsewhere in France, people think the contest is already lost for Sarkozy, who won the election in 2007.
In the first days and weeks following the Toulouse Affair, opinion polls were looking up for the right-wing candidate, who for a year ranked low in polls. And for the first time since he started his campaign in mid-February (too little too late?), newspaper headlines read “The unbelievable comeback,” and “Help! Sarko is back!”).
But his short-lived rise came to a halt, and one week before the April 22 elections, his situation is more hopeless than ever.
After wondering whether the Toulouse shootings in March would save Sarkozy in his campaign, the answer is now decidedly no, according to recent media polls. The attacks did not modify the dynamic of the presidential campaign, neither did the anti- Islamic raids carried out in several towns in France targeting extremists soon after the terrorist attacks.
Still, for the first round, Sarkozy finds himself with between 26 and 30 percent support in the polls, leading his Socialist rival François Hollande, Social-Communist Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Marine Le Pen from the extreme right-wing National Front each with 15%, and François Bayrou from the center with 10%.
But for the second and final round, the gap is only widening between Hollande and Sarkozy though, because although the French public cares about issues of national security, the vast majority are more worried about employment and their purchasing power.
While the voters are becoming increasingly disappointed with the socialist candidate’s low key approach, the voting swing is not benefitting Sarkozy, rather it seems to be helping Mélenchon, who is dramatically outspoken, with his call on posters throughout Paris: “Take the power.”
To counteract the rise in Mélenchon’s image and standing with voters, Hollande is calling for “a realistic vote” in the first round.
Sarkozy is also worried about abstentions, “the true risk,” according to newspaper Le Parisien. The daily paper asks: “Is there any hiding vote for Sarkozy?” among the abstentions, but after consideration backed up with some voting calculations the paper gave a negative conclusion.
In reality it is the relative weakness of Mélenchon and Eva Joly of the Green Party, that will benefit the Socialist camp in the second round. Le Pen, to whom Sarkozy’s right-wing offensive caused considerable damage, will not tell her supporters whom to vote for. In the second round of voting, most likely on May 6, at most, only 50% of her votes will go to the UMP candidate, whereas it is likely that nearly 80% of “the Left of the Left” (the Left Front and other small left-wing parties) will go to Hollande.
For those who do not believe in opinion polls and to reduce the statistical margin of error, Le Parisien asked the BVA Institute to conduct a survey of 2,807 people, three times more than the number used in a classic voter poll. The conclusion from this larger slice of opinion is striking: “A Wall stands in front of the outgoing president. He would in fact be beaten by François Hollande on May 6,” the poll concludes, predicting that Sarkozy would receive 44% of votes and Hollande 56%.
“This is due to the nearly perfect transfer of votes, which benefits Hollande,” explained Gaël Sliman, director of the BVA opinion polls.
Indeed, it is now a year since the opinion polls predicted Sarkozy’s loss. Although the gap did get smaller at one point, it is now getting wider. Sarkozy was betting on a swift campaign to reverse this trend but now finds himself neck and neck with Hollande in the race for the first round.
However, the slight fall for Hollande, which benefits Mélenchon in the first round will make this adversary of the first round a back up reinforcement in the second.
Even if a solid number of voters are transferred to Sarkozy, this would not necessarily insure his reelection, but should it happen against all odds, it would be a staggering defeat for the pollsters.
Trying desperately to bring back to her camp the 2007 voters, Nathalie Koscisuco-Morizet, Sarkozy’s spokeswoman, called dramatically for a mega-meeting at Place de la Concorde in Paris yesterday, expecting thousands of supporters belonging to the “silent majority” to stand up and say “no to the media system.”
According to Sarkozy’s supporters, Hollande, who at the same time held his own huge gathering in front of the Chateau de Vincennes near Paris, “is campaigning like it was an anti-Sarkozy referendum.” Is this an exaggeration? Not at all, says the president.
“We cannot keep silent on everything, crisis and security,” Sarkozy said in an interview with the candidates last week. “It is my duty as president to tell the truth... I have a different point of view from the ‘Financial Times,’ the Anglo-Saxon thinking of no economical barrier... You want the Left? You will have Greece and Spain.”
The president’s final meeting, held in the mythical La Concorde, close to his residence at the Elysee Palace and under the famous Obelisque, and where the most tragic events in France’s history occured and where general Charles De Gaulle used to give his unforgettable speeches.
Sarkozy referred to De Gaulle and other French historical figures in his speech, such as Victor Hugo, Emile Zola and Napoleon Bonaparte in an effort to summon “the people of France.” He called to the crowd: “Hear me! Frenchwomen and frenchmen, help me! Viva la France! Viva la Republique!”