It’s been a relatively steady week and a half since French president Nicolas Sarkozy announced his candidacy for reelection with a mix of populist stances with respect to France and steady-ship statesmanship with respect to Europe, all the while showing some of the frenetic energy that won the Élysée in 2007.
The first crop of post-announcement polls show that Sarkozy is catching up to Parti socialiste candidate François Hollande in the first round, but still faces a double-digit gap in a second-round runoff against Hollande.
An Ipsos poll released today is demonstrative.
In the first round, the distribution of current voting intentions is as follows:
- François Hollande — 31.5%
- Nicolas Sarkozy — 27%
- Marine Le Pen — 16%
- François Bayrou — 11%
- Jean-Luc Mélenchon — 8%
- Eva Joly — 2.5%
- Dominique de Villepin — 1%
- Nicolas-Dupont Aignan — 1%
In the second round, however, Hollande leads Sarkozy by a 58% to 42% margin.
Hollande is holding steady enough in the first round, notwithstanding some polling momentum for Mélenchon, who is the candidate of the Front de gauche, a left-wing group that includes, among other parties, what remains of the Parti communiste français.
Sarkozy is clearly narrowing the gap and it seems less likely than ever that Sarkozy will be edged out of the first round of the contest by Marine Le Pen. It appears that he has been, for now, successful enough in co-opting the populism of the right and preventing the resurgence of the Front national under the more energetic Marine Le Pen, who has worked hard to broaden the appeal of her father’s party, especially as a nationalist voice in the face of ever-continued drain of sovereignty vis-a-vis Europe.
Sarkozy’s second round vote, however, seems as hopeless as ever.
The gap demonstrates just how skilled Sarkozy will have to be in carrying forward his two-pronged strategy for reelection: he needs to sound a populist enough tone in order to finish strongly in the first round but also needs to make the case that a Hollande win would jeopardize the stability of Europe in the second round — two arguments that are hardly complementary. If Sarkozy strikes too strident a populist note before the first round, he risks endangering his position as a serious statesman. If Sarkozy pushes the arugment that he is uniquely placed to see Europe through its current financial crisis, he will himself be open to populist attacks from the right and the left.