It’s French election day. The final poll (all survey fieldwork must stop by law several days before the polls open) is here, putting Hollande and Sarkozy level around 27% (+/-1), Marine Le Pen on 16%, Jean-Luc Mélénchon on 14%, and the rest tailing in well behind. Every poll for the last 12 months has Hollande winning by a landslide in the second round.
Le Monde‘s polling blog adds up the Left and Right camps here, and notes that the parties of the Left tot up to 46% of the vote in the first round, compared with 43.5% for the Right. This is a historically high score for the Left, as high as the wave that elected Francois Mitterand in 1981 although not quite as big as his re-election in 1988.
As far as the second round electoral maths goes, though, even if France invented the notion of a canonical left-right divide, it’s more complicated than that. Francois Bayrou represents a separate, independent rightist tradition to Nicolas Sarkozy, and the Front National support isn’t monolithic – a substantial percentage of FN voters are expected to switch to the Socialist candidate in the second round. If that survey is good, Hollande can expect to gain more Bayrou voters than Sarkozy, plus 83% of Mélénchon’s, and a substantial minority of the FN. There’s an assessment of polling accuracy here. Conclusion: pretty good, and improving.
Also, it’s worth noting that the shock of 2002 had as much to do with a bad day for the PS as it did with a good one for the FN. Marine Le Pen is on 16% in the final polls, 11 points behind the leaders, so it would take a polling catastrophe of astonishing proportions for her to make the cut. As a result, one of the biggest questions that will be answered tonight is which extremist takes third place. On a couple of occasions during the last month of the campaign, Mélénchon pulled ahead of Le Pen in the polls, and they are competing within the statistical margin of error, which is itself bigger for the down-ticket candidates.
A Mélénchon win (or rather first-loser) would force quite a lot of assumptions about European politics to be revised, and would probably bring about an epic bout of internal feuding in the FN. What influence he would have would depend very much on how well his ability to bring out the Left for a mass meeting translates into parliamentary seats in the elections which follow in a month’s time.