24 April 2012

Is Sarkozy Finished?

I was travelling in the last couple of weeks and I landed to Paris just as polling stations were closing. My timing was such that, the cab driver told me he could not legally answer my questions on elections before 8 p.m. and asked me to be patient for another three minutes. He actually said that, which makes him and all the French cabbies official pundits.

The radio was on and we found out that the exit polls gave the far right candidate, Marine Le Pen, an unexpected third place with roughly 20 percent of the vote (the next day it was corrected to 18 percent). That means almost one in five French voters cast their ballots for her. No one was expecting that.  (That's Marine le Pen and her proud papa)

Most analysts were convinced that French people were aligned with the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) sentiment. After all, Jean Luc Melenchon, the charismatic leader of the Left Party was on the rise and everyone expected him to poll very strongly to finish third after Sarkozy and Hollande.

The problem is that the OWS sentiment is rooted in fear. OWS happened after tens of millions of people lost their life savings mostly tied in overvalued real estate. Millions lost their jobs and several million families became homeless. You wouldn't know any of this from the sarcastic and nonchalant coverage but this is the context. As any student of 1930s and 40s will tell you, fear is more likely to move you to the right when you have something to lose. It is more likely to move you to the left when you have nothing left to lose. Remember the song?

Hence, if I were a politician, I would worry about Greece moving to far left but France is not there.

Not yet anyway.

Despite the unexpected results, most pundits believe that Hollande will be victorious in the second round. Opinion polls showed him as the clear favorite for months now and with Melenchon voters firmly behind him, it is widely believed that these elections are Hollande's to lose.

I am not that convinced.

Run off elections have a different dynamic and until the first round is over I wouldn't take whatever people told pollsters too seriously. There are three things in Sarkozy's favor: