French presidential election: brief comments

8:40: Sarko and Ségo in the second round then. Which means two important things. Firstly, someone at work owes me a coffee (I really should have bet for something more pricey). Secondly, the election that had been billed by some pundits as one of the most inpredictible ever has delivered very predictible results indeed: the two candidates that were ahead in the polls since the beginning get through to the runoff; the Bayrou insurgency receded in the late campaign, just like the polls were showing; and all the minor candidates were crushed, with the Communist and Green parties looking DOA now. The only half-surprise is the (relative) crash of the extreme right: but it is a surprise only because many thought Le Pen would get a big result, against what most of the polls were predicting. I sense the always-reviled pollsters will have a field day tonight.

Update by Alex: Libé carried time-series graphs for all the pollsters on Friday, and one of the striking things was that Le Pen had gained no more than 1 per cent or so over the campaign, whichever poll you looked at.

8:50 (Emmanuel) : there’s no denying that Sarkozy is looking good now. Not only is he ahead by a significant margin, but Royal does not have significant reserves of votes to tap into for the second round (the total of all left-wing candidates is around 36%). Much will depend on François Bayrou’s attitude in the next days but even if (a really big “if”) he calls his voters to support Royal, it remains doubtful that they’ll follow him.

9:10 (Emmanuel) : The much-awaited Bayrou is speaking. Begins with that worn-out platitude: “French politics will never be the same”. Big score despite negative media, polls and pundits. Strongly criticizes the two main parties. Hints that “decisions” will be taken in the next days.

9:20 (Emmanuel) : Official CW about Bayrou is that he won’t support Sarkozy and that he can’t support Royal (because UDF MPs clearly need the support of the UMP to be reelected in June). Hence his pox-in-both-your-houses attitude. One striking thing nonetheless: all the left-wing candidates have been falling over themselves to give their support to Royal (even the famously intransigent Laguiller); so far, no candidate has called to vote for Sarkozy.

9:47 (Alex) : Royal making incredibly long, incredibly lacklustre speech. Bayrou was bad enough but this is dire. You wouldn’t think this was one of the highest scores for a Socialist in the first round ever.

9:50 (Emmanuel) : Damn. Alex just wrote exactly what I was thinking. When you hear Segolène speaking, you always wonder how she managed to go that far. Really unispiring stuff.

10:00 (Alex) : Le Pen is gradually sinking with each update of the polls. He’s now below the lowest estimate of his score at the beginning of the campaign. And the Communists have done very badly in places like Ariége..

10:05 (Alex) : Thierry Maillet says it’s 1981 over again. Giscard got 28.3 per cent, Mitterand 25.9, Chirac 18, and Georges Marchais of the PCF 15. 2007==(Giscard:Sarkozy, Mitterand:Royal, Chirac:Bayrou, Marchais:Le Pen)? Perhaps. Maillet points out that many of the voters who left the PCF moved to the FN.

10:14 (Alex)
: It’s worth pointing out that so far, the départements that are reporting are very few, and most are overseas territories. As Libé’s front-page Flash map points out, the masses are yet to engage. Meanwhile, gurks! Eric Besson, the PS national secretary who walked out of Ségoléne Royal’s economic team, has announced that he’s supporting Sarkozy.

10:15 (Tobias) – coverage of international online coverage – the BBC duly notes the high turnout and realizses that “France opts for a left-right battle.” The BBC’s political correspondent Jonathan Marcus also states that

“Whoever finally wins the presidency, … it will mark a change of political generation and perhaps a shift in French international priorities, making this election matter even to those outside France.”

Quite right. The NY Times enlists the help of the AP and also notes the generational change, as well as the gender dynamics in play –

“If the results confirm that, France will get its first president born after World War II after the May 6 final round. If she wins, Royal will become France’s first woman president.”

Wondering about Bayrou’s weak results, the newspaper reminds that one principal motivation for many voters was not to allow the participation of Le Pen in the second round. Germany’s conservative “Die Welt” mentions that Sarkozy’s move to the right paid off in the first round but questions whether it might not have the opposite effect in two weeks, mentioning the importance of the Bayrou vote, the majority of which seems willing to rally behind Royal to avoid Sarkozy – possibly without any official recommendation from the former candidate. Sarkozy will now have to move back to the center, but Die Welt doubts his efforts will be convincing following months of rather divisive campaigning.

For the liberal weekly Die Zeit’s “Blog Tricolore” (in German) Alain-Xavier Wurst” files a report from Royal’s headquarters and notes that the mood is getting better by the minute after they realised that this election will not be a repetition of the last one. He also explains that one winner of the current election wasn’t even on the polls – the telecommunications industry apparently expects as many text messages as after last year’s world cup final, that, for the first time in decades, Jaques Chirac must has voted for someone else – probably Ségolène Royal, and that there are about three million new voters, mostly young people, many of whom live in the Banlieues offended by Monsieur Sarkozy.

It will be very interesting to dissect today’s result in a little more detail. A regional breakdown will be available at the French interior ministry’s site – but at the moment, all results are still empty. Don’t forget it’s a Sunday…

10:15 (Emmanuel): first second-round poll. Sarko 54% РS̩go 46%. As anticipated, it really will be an uphill battle for the left-wing candidate.

10:25 (Alex): Or maybe not. More results are coming in, and the gap is closing – 29.6 vs 27.4, with Le Pen tanking under the 10 per cent mark. PS, Liberation has a regional results map on their front page.

10:50 (Emmanuel): A lot of interesting tidbits in the Ipsos exit poll (pdf). Like, for all the talk about the underwhelming result of Le Pen, the fact that he’s still first in the blue-collar demographic slice (“ouvriers“).

10:59 (Tobias): Nadine Morano explains on that Sarkozy wants to convince pro-European voters by explaining that he was the only one who wants to go forward with a “mini-treaty” and avoid a second referendum on the constitution.

11:05 (Emmanuel): France Info radio reporting Sarkozy first in Paris, Seine-Saint-Denis (aka the place where all those cars were burnt in 2005) départements.

11:12 (Tobias): Daniel Cohn-Bendit believes that Bayrou was in the end beaten by the problem that the UDF feels the need/needs to cooperate with Sarkozy’s UMP in the parliamentary elections. That, according to Cohn-Bendit, essentially made Bayrou’s “third way” proposal a lot less credible. Interestingly, he also praises Sarkozy for his ability to pull Le Pen voters into the “normal” parliamentary spectrum.

11:15 (Emmanuel): Another second-round poll, this time from CSA. And another expected result: Sarkozy 53,5% – Royal 46,5%. Among the people who voted for Bayrou it’s: 16% unsure, 45% Royal, 39% Sarkozy.

11:35 (Emmanuel): And the WTF award of the day goes to unknown candidate Gérard Schivardi (dead-last with 0,4% of the vote) who declares: “I’m a happy man. This electoral base will allow me to create a new political party“.

11:55 (Emmanuel): Droite caviar? Sarko gets 73% in his own (posh) town of Neuilly, and 58% in the (posh) 8th arrondissement of Paris. Meanwhile, Royal barely comes out ahead in Bordeaux, a bit of a surprise since this is the town of ex-Prime minister and Sarkozy ally Alain Juppé.

12:05 (Alex): Droite ouvriére. Sarko just sneaks it in the Pas de Calais. Even there, where the biggest city is still Communist-run, the PCF gets only 3.4 per cent.

01:05 (Emmanuel): well, the bottle of wine is empty now and the official results are still not coming, so just a last comment to say that I fully agree with Pascal Riché’s analysis: based on the first round results, Ségolène Royal really has an impossible equation to solve, considering that the total of left-wing votes and one half of Bayrou’s total still left her at something like 45%. Adding to that the fact that Sarkozy is a much better debater than she is, and it’s hard to be very optimistic right now if you’re a left-wing voter (which, I hasten to add, I am). But, as they say, one week is a long time in politics. And she has two. But she better get started now.

Oh, and a warm welcome to our soon-to-be-there 1,000,000th Afoe visitor.

Written on the subway walls

My comments on the French election posters, which appeared in bulk last weekend with the formal beginning of the campaign, after which strict equal-access rules apply…

The ruling principle is the difference between those who want to be elected, and those for which the style of candidacy is most important.

Those who want to be elected are keen on getting votes, by the silliest means. Those who don’t expect – or seriously want – to be elected are keen to be seen to be doing politics how they wish it was done. Hence Sarko, Bayrou, Royal, and Le Pen’s posters are all centred on the candidate’s face, which is meant to convey their virtues but also their context.

For example, Sarkozy’s face appears, well-lit, from a darkened landscape, above his name and nothing else. Subtext – I am a leader without party, come to relieve our darkness. Join! Francois Bayrou’s is not that dissimilar, which should not really be surprising given that he thinks he really is without party, and that his party used to be more rightwing than Sarko’s as recently as 1994.

Ségoléne Royal’s face is inevitably the centre of hers, but what is this? Grainy, monochrome photography, with a block red masthead and italic, bold white Helvetica type. It looks like a 1970s leftwing paper’s front page from some demonstration, presumably intended to lend some revolutionary romance to her image (and herald a last-minute tack to the base?). More importantly, it’s easily the best-designed and most recognisable of the lot, rivalled only by…

Le Pen’s, which shows the man himself on stage, looking astonishingly like Ian Paisley. Like the Man Standing in the Gap Left By God, Le Pen’s political career is founded on his stage performance. Makes sense, and is at least legible. His far-right rival, Philippe de Villiers of the MPF, is a borderline case. No-one thinks he will get a significant vote, but he probably thinks he will. Notable is the odd look in his eyes – his party is very much the UKIP to Le Pen’s BNP, appealing to Catholic farmers rather than secular townies, and like them, he could well be described as a swivel-eyed loon.

The others know they won’t be elected, and have their explanations ready – the election system is against them, the media is controlled by the armaments industry, France needs a more deliberative system. So they are free to design as if everyone in the country would stop to read every word. Olivier Besancenot, Arlette Laguillier, and the risible Schivardi stuff theirs with reams of text, illegible without making a point of visiting every poster – which is what they wish you would do, and they choose to imagine a society where everyone would. Voynet’s just look like they were left over from last time out.