The French elections and the poll surge of Left Front candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon MEP

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The first round of the French presidential election will be held on 22 April with the second round on 6 May. The main candidates are President Sarkozy (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire, centre right), François Hollande (Parti Socialiste, centre left), Marine Le Pen (Front National, radical right), Jean-Luc Mélenchon (Front de Gauche, radical left), Francois Bayrou (Mouvement Démocrate, liberal centrist). Recent weeks of the campaign have been dominated by the rise in support for Jean-Luc Mélenchon, an MEP sitting with the GUE/NGL (United Left Alliance and Sinn Féin) group in the European Parliament, and a series of gun attacks in and around Toulouse targeting French soldiers and a Jewish school by a man who claimed ties to al-Qaeda. The right, despite their best efforts, has not managed to capitalise significantly on the attacks.

Pollsters confirm the Left Front surge – March 28, 2012

Polling companies now concur and put the Left Front candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon on 13 to 14% of the vote. This breakthrough has ruffled the feathers of the PS (Parti Socialiste, Socialist Party), which maintains that the results of the first round of voting will not influence their candidate’s programme.

It is now a reality in all the polls: all concur and indicate that the Left Front and its candidate have entered a new phase in the campaign. In one week, Jean-Luc Mélenchon rose to 13-14% of the vote. Since the CSA poll, which put him on 13% (+ 2 points) for the first time on March 21, all other surveys published have confirmed this breakthrough: 14% (+ 5 points) according to BVA for RTL, Orange and the regional press, 13% (+ 1.5% in one week) according to Ipsos for Le Monde, Radio France and France Télévisions. Similarly Ifop (+ 3) for Europe 1, Paris Match and Public Sénat, and 13% (+ 2) according to Harris Interactive for VSD and LCP.

French people’s priorities remain the same

One can offer at least two explanations for this surge. One is the electoral context: efforts by Sarkozy and Le Pen to sidetrack the campaign onto the themes of security and immigration since the events in Toulouse do not seem to have worked. The French are not distracted from their crisis-sharpened priorities such as purchasing power (42% according to BVA), unemployment (30%), and growth (23%). All subjects at the heart of the campaigns of left candidates, and particularly that of the Left Front. There is also a second factor that sheds light on Mélenchon’s polling figures: the dynamics of a Left Front campaign widely seen as the most active of all the parties. This is the case for respondents to Harris Interactive, who put Mélenchon’s campaign first (for 29% the most “impressive”), ahead of Nicolas Sarkozy (22%), Marine Le Pen (8%) and Francois Hollande (6%), but also according to TNS-Sofres for I-Télé last Friday: 56% of French people believe that Mélenchon is making an impact in this campaign, against 54% who feel this way about Nicolas Sarkozy, 40% for Le Pen , 21% for Francois Hollande and 18% for Francois Bayrou. The two main candidates paying the price are Bayrou and Le Pen. Bayrou is now trailing behind the Left Front on 11-12%. Marine Le Pen has slumped and stagnated at 13-16%.

For the PS, Jerome Cahuzac, adviser to Francois Hollande, warned yesterday that in the second round, voting for Francois Hollande means “approving his programme”, in other words there would be no concessions based on the results of the first round – a strategy to divert the Mélenchon vote that is causing concern within the PS. Not that the victory of the left is threatened, on the contrary: the march of the PS candidate is still overwhelming in the second round against Nicolas Sarkozy (54% against 46% across all surveys). A high Left Front score is on the cards, while at the same time, the possibility of eliminating the threat posed by the FN, reducing the score of the centre and its influence on the left, and achieving a combined left vote that Ségolène Royal lacked in 2007. Left-wing voters transfer much more heavily than the center to the Socialists in the second round of presidential elections. But the advance of the Left Front is disrupting the course of the PS which must now readjust its programme to the success of the Left Front campaign. A left shift in the campaign is a key challenge in the first round to ensure policy change after the elections.

English translation: David Lundy
Original author: Sebastian Crepel
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