France: Bad News for the Left

A new poll has very bad news for the French left: a huge chunk of left voters are being seduced by Nicolas Sarkozy, the hard-line, demagogic, law-and-order ultra-free market right-winger who is the ruling conservative UMP party’s candidate for president in the elections which begin with a first round of voting on April 22.


On Monday, Sarkozy — a telegenic media manipulator — appeared on the top-rated TV network TF1′s prime-time political show “J’ai une question a vous poser” (“I have a question to ask you”), in which 100 French selected by a pollster to be demographically and politically representative of the French electorate were invited to ask the candidate questions. And a poll commissioned by the daily Le Figaro and LCI radio from the firm Opinion Way, and released on Friday, showed that a whopping 60% of voters who identified themselves as “left” and who saw the broadcast found Sarkozy “convincing.”


On the broadcast, which drew an all-time audience record for a TV political show of 8.2 million, Sarkozy — supposedly the most hated man for the left — was even found “sympathetic” by 35% of left voters, despite sharp clashes between Sarkozy and audience members over gays (“Sarko,” as he is called, re-iterated his opposition to gay marriage and adoptions by gay couples, policies with which there’s a lot of discomfort among the working classes) and immigration (Sarko, as Interior Minister, has stepped up deportations of immigrants — including of children attending French schools, speaking French perfectly, and doing well scholastically — and is campaigning on a nationalist slogan stolen from neo-fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen: “La France, on l’aime ou on la quitte” (“France — Love it or Leave It.”)


Worse, 40% of left voters polled agreed with Sarko on gay marriage (even though most polls show a majority of the French favor it), and 35% of left voters agreed with him on immigrants and his “France — Love It or Leave It” slogan. That last number undoubtedly reflects the residual electoral effects of the country-wide French ghetto riots of October-November 2005, which dramatically heightened the mood of anti-immigrant domestic security hysteria that has gripped France for years and motored the racist rise of Le Pen — a hysteria which Sarkozy is so skilled at inflaming and exploiting (in part by borrowing Le Pen’s ideas.)


More bad news for Segolene Royal, the Socialist Party’s programatically vapid nominee, whose unfocused campaign of bland generalities has been in decline for weeks: a separate poll taken for the Paris daily Metro (a very successful free newspaper geared to younger readers) showed that Segolene has lost 10 points of support among younger voters since January — and, in fact, also shows Sarkozy beating her among younger voters by six points. If the establishment left’s candidate is losing the youth to the right, and a chunk of her left base is slipping away, what hope does she have?


And the latest poll for the France 2 public TV network also shows Sarkozy beating Segolene in the run-off second round of presidential voting by 6 points.


For those left voters looking for a solidly left-wing alternative to the centrist, Tony Blair-loving Socialist Party candidate Segolene, there was also bad news: a French court last week sentenced Jose Bové– the anti-globalization and environmental leader who announced his presidential candidacy last week as the representative of the “left of the left” — was sentenced to four months in jail for another one of his highly-publicized (and popular) acts of civil disobedience, in the occurence the destruction of a genetically-modified crop. (See my post from February 1, “Jose Bové Complicates the Contest,” for an analysis of the presidential race thus far and Bové’s impact on it.) This means that Bové will be unable to campaign in person across France, and will have to content himself with issuing occasional written statements from his jail cell instead of declaiming before the TV cameras, which has been the source of his widespread popularity up until now. At present it’s hard to see how this “left of the left” campaign, which was only just getting off the ground, can have much impact in the first round of voting deprived of its media-savvy candidate on the stump.


If you want an intelligent perspective on the campaign, the best-selling libertarian philosopher Michel Onfray — who’s been the most important intellectual figure ardently advocating a “left of the left” alternative to Segolene — has been invited to write a “presidential blog” for France’s largest weekly newsmagazine, the tepidly-left Nouvel Observateur. Onfray’s blog debuted day before yesterday with a declaration of principles — and he followed it up today with a definition of the “Deleuzian politics” that have led him to back Bové, the candidate who is “a reader of Ellul, of Illich, of Thoreau, and of Bakunin.” Unfortunately for Onfray, his candidate will now have a lot of unexpected reading time while he’s off the campaign trail and behind bars.


And a specter is haunting France — the specter of SarkozyStay tuned.



Doug Ireland, a longtime radical journalist and media critic, runs the blog DIRELAND, where this article appeared Feb. 9, 2007.

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