FRENCH ELECTIONS: Hollande ahead in first poll after Round One

Probably only a major deal with Bayrou could give Sarko victory now

A French poll just released (fieldwork conducted last Sunday night) suggests that Francois Hollande looks likely to beat Nicolas Sarkozy in their head-to-head Round Two election two weeks from now by around 10 percentage points. But that result is, I suspect, misleading.

Many people in the States and the UK may find this Hollande lead strange, given that if one adds Sarkozy’s score of 25.5% at the weekend to most of the Le pen and half the Bayrou supporters, he appears to have a clear 4-point advantage. The problem is that UK newspapers have, on the whole, a shaky grasp of French political nomenclature.

Political correctness, as always, is partly behind this. That 1 in 5 French voters put their crosses next to Marine Le Pen of the Right-Wing Front Nationale is variously described as ‘shameful’ and ‘a blot on French history’. This is because they suffer from Hainitis, and only see the FN as a racist, anti-Muslim Party.

It is indeed anti-Muslim, but so are a great many of the French – on religious, not racial, grounds. And anyway, Le Pen’s support is mainly that of people disgusted with the corruption, inaction and perfidy of the Establishment in Paris. Quite a lot of left wing French people support Le Pen, and so the victory of Francois Hollande in the first round may well attract at least 35% of her supporters to move to the Socialist leader….largely on the basis of his currently anti-EU/Merkel stance.

But for me, the most intriguing element is what might happen to the 9% of votes cast for the Centre candidate Bayrou. In 2008, Francois Bayrou polled twice that: he took many votes off Segolene Royale, because he seemed both tougher and more radical than her. This time, however, the Socialist vote stayed rock-solid behind Hollande.

So one could argue that most of Bayrou’s support this time came from the Centre-Right. Thus, say, around 7% of the Centre candidate’s votes might go to the UMP candidate Sarkozy. Far more certain is that the hard-Left support for Melanchon in Round One (a passable showing at 12%) will either abstain or go to the current President.

This adds up, on the back-of-envelope system, to around 47-48% for Hollande, and 45-46% for Sarkozy – that is, a comfortable win for the Socialists….but close enough to make Francois Bayrou the potential King-maker.

Were Sarko to promise Bayrou a senior role in government – perhaps even the Premiership – the contest suddenly becomes almost impossible to call. But Bayrou is that rare thing, a principled politician: he thinks Sarko is a prancing idiot, and that Hollande’s spending plans don’t make sense. On balance, he is unlikely to want to soil his hands with either candidate – or indeed, with the mess one of them will have to face.

But you never know. Dirty tricks from abroad may yet materialise. The Morgan-Stanley made FOAT market is up and running and ready to bet against a Socialist President; and Angela Merkel has already flatly refused an audience with Francois Hollande.

Perhaps there’ll be a restoration of the Monarchy, with Christine I at the head of a new dynasty.

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