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24 April 2007

Election surprises

Chris Stacey describes what the media didn't see coming as he continues to join in chants of "Segolè

By Chris Stacey

Months of campaigning, speculations and opinion polls and… the obvious happened! The two big candidates, Segolène Royal and Nicholas Sarkozy, qualified for the second round. In some ways, this is a victory for the pollsters and the media, who predicted this outcome many months ago. However, they failed to predict the two really surprising things about the election results.

After the failure to predict his rise in 2002, no commentators or pollsters dared to predict the fall of Jean-Marie Le Pen. Without going into lots and lots of detail about polling methods, this is mainly to do with how opinion polls calculate Le Pen’s score. As Colin Randell said in his last post “Lying to the pollsters” people don’t tend to tell pollsters that they’re voting Le Pen. To compensate for this, each polling institute has a technique to ‘redress’ Le Pen’s score. This normally means that they look at the difference between how many people said they’d vote Le Pen in 2002 and how many did, and then add the same number to his poll score for 2007. A crude technique to say the least and it meant that no-one had a clue what his score would be until the results came in.

The other major thing that no one predicted was the massive turnout. I’ve lost count of the number of political science classes I’ve had this year where the tutor or lecturer has talked about a crisis of representation and how people don’t vote because they don’t feel represented by any politician. After Le Pen’s high score in 2002, most people expected fewer abstentions this time around, but no one expected a record score. The record level of indecision beforehand (30 percent undecided a few days before the election) led to expectations that people who were undecided were less likely to vote. Instead, it was a sign that people were engaging more with the process.

I spent the election night outside the Socialist Party HQ in Paris, celebrating with thousands of supporters of Segolène Royal. Although I may have misgivings about some of her policies, there’s no doubt I prefer her vision of France. She speaks of the importance of people and of the need for rebuilding France in a way that benefits all of society. That emphasis on all of France was very evident in the crowd on Sunday night. I haven’t seen that much ethnic and social diversity anywhere in central Paris, let alone at political gatherings of the right-wing candidates. It’s impossible to verify the extent of the ethnic diversity supporting each candidate (due to republican laws that forbid any surveying on ethnicity), so it’s only through anecdotal evidence that you get any sense of it.

In some ways, with the role of a President being more about the overall direction of policy, with the day-to-day things left to the Prime Minister, the rhetoric and overall vision of France is more important than the details of policy. There are more than enough talented people in the Socialist Party, notably Dominic Straus-Kahn the former Finance Minister, to form a capable government around Royal. So after my initial misgivings I was proud to be chanting “Segolène, Presidente.”

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