Considering the amount of discussion going on around the latest poll revealing that Marine Le Pen would lead the first round of the 2012 presidential elections, I have decided it was time to write an article on why I believe Marine Le pen will not be France’s next president, and if she does, hopefully by then I will not be living in France.
The are several reasons why I do not believe the results of this poll are to be taken quite so seriously, the first one being that we are still a full 14 months away from the election, and as anyone knows much can happen on the political scene in that time. Second of all, the poll was putting Marine Le Pen up against Martine Aubry as the Socialist Party’s candidate, when in fact they have not yet chosen one. But these are not the main reasons why I believe Marine Le Pen will not be president, the main reason is the poll itself. As Melissa Bounoua says in the Guardian, the French are in love with polls, implying that their results and meaning are perhaps less important then they are actually given credit for.
After the results of the 2002 presidential elections, in which Marine’s father Jean-Marie notoriously made it through to the second round of voting, I undertook a study as part of my undergraduate degree as to how he managed to achieve such an unprecedented success. Part of this study was dedicated to the opinion polls going around at the time before the election, and the influence they had on the outcome of the vote.
At the time, the pollsters were predicting that Lionel Jospin and Jacques Chirac, heads of the two main parties, would be going through to the second round of the vote. But this contributed to a feeling of apathy and disinterest that had gathered momentum amongst voters who were sick of always seeing the same people contending for the presidency. Little did the pollsters know, this would result in the selection of Jean-Marie Le Pen going through to the second round. One could say that under the influence of the opinion polls’ original results, people ended up casting votes for the Front National. However, regardless of whether or not the polls actually influenced people’s votes, it’s clear that as Melissa Bounoua says, “no poll actually predicted what happened”. This is precisely what must be remembered when analyzing the current poll placing Marine Le Pen ahead of all other contenders.
One also mustn’t forget that the job of pollsters is very difficult, due to people not being willing to answer, or lying and then having to re-evaluate the numbers and answers comparing them to polls of previous years in order to make the figures more realistic. Furthermore, once the figures have been released they are then open to interpretation from the media, who are free to do with them what they want. This is certainly dangerous territory as figures can be used to either scare people or push them into action.
But there is another side to Marine Le Pen’s potential success that has been neglected in the interpretation of the recent poll results, and that Bruce Crumley reminds us of. Her current success is partly due to the failure of current president Nicolas Sarkozy and his team of politicians, and his desire to pander to the extreme right voters. As Crumley and many others have pointed out, Sarkozy’s attempt to make some of the Front National’s policies his own such as the expulsion of the Roma and the debate on national identity have mostly backfired. What worked during the presidential campaign in 2007 is definitely no longer working. Instead, he should start trying to gain voters from the other side: centre right, centre and even left, moving away from his more radical image. Similarly, the Parti Socialiste need to move away from their image of being an internally divided party with weak policies, and try to gather more votes from the centre.
All is not yet over, this poll is only one of many more to come and all parties concerned have time to put together a real strategy for their presidential campaign, and turn around their current rhetoric if necessary. Sarkozy may not win the next presidential election, but this doesn’t mean that it will be Marine Le Pen. Perhaps as with her father, the results will act as a sudden wake-up call and French voters will turn out en masse to thwart her and the Front National.
A link to a previous article I wrote on Marine Le Pen and the results of my research on the outcome of the 2002 presidential elections can be found here.