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Campaign Trail Begins for 2017 French Presidential Elections

November 05, 2015

French politicians are on the campaign trail ahead of regional elections in December. President Hollande’s popularity is the lowest it has reached all year, Marine le Pen continues to make gains and is likely to win control of northern France, and the Center Right led by Nicholas Sarkozy is expected to get the most votes across mainland France.[1]

Hollande’s Low Popularity 

President Hollande’s low popularity will turn the November 2016 center-right primaries into a de facto presidential election. Hollande recently received his lowest approval rating of the year according to a recent Ifop poll.[2]

“Internal divisions, splits with other left-leaning parties and Hollande’s personal unpopularity have dented his Socialist party’s prospects for regional elections in December, boding ill for their chances in the 2017 presidential race.”[3] Therefore, while it is likely that Hollande will run in the 2017 elections, it is improbable that he will get very far. His failure to maintain the support of his party’s grassroots will hinder his progression. Furthermore, his focus on pro-market reforms have distanced left-wing supporters who feel as though he is behaving like a right-wing president. His terrible ratings are unlikely to make a comeback in time for him to place first or second in the preliminary round of the elections.

Despite poor internal support, Hollande will have successfully fulfilled his initial campaign promise of lowering unemployment. Furthermore, on October 19, Hollande predicted growth of 1.1 percent in 2015.[4] This growth rate is, however, insufficient and Hollande failed to fulfill his more ambitious aims of flexible contracts for young trainees and an end to France’s infamous 35 hour working week.

Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande on the steps of the Élysée Palace

Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande on the steps of the Élysée Palace, 2012 inauguration ceremony of the President of France (Source: AP) 

FN continues to make gains throughout France

The National Front party is surging in polls and with December local elections approaching, it is becoming increasingly clear that France’s politics is being driven largely from the right. [5] Although the FN is unlikely to win the elections, most analysts say they will at least reach the final round of presidential elections in 2017.[6] Marine Le Pen recently polled at 31% amongst her contendors in the 2017 presidential race.[7] Marine Le Pen is also launching a new campaign in Paris’  impoverished suburbs, or banlieues, to try and gain support from Muslim voters.[8] This falls in line with her attempt to rid her parties’ image of being racist and xenophobic.[9]  She hopes that the banlieues will be attracted by her protectionist economic policies.[10] A recent Odoxa opinion poll showed that the FN has only 4% fewer votes than the Socialists in Île de France.[11] Despite her efforts to rid the FN of its anti-Semitic image and appeal more to the more mainstream voter, Le Pen’s party still thrives on its concerns over immigration and radical Islam. She continues to reject immigration and contests that she is the only one to support the average French worker from the German domination of the EU. These policies are particularly popular in the northern parts of the country, where there is a record rate of unemployment. However, “nationwide, the older generation has tended to resist the FN’s overtures, although in Denain pensioners joined students and workers handing out the party’s election leaflets.” [12]  Voting for Le Pen has become somewhat of a protest vote in these communities.[13]

Marine Le Pen will also benefit from the rift between Juppé and Sarkozy. The center right’s inability to seem unified will weaken its standing. While Juppé casts himself as a unifier, Sarkozy believes that he can appeal to voters through his strong stance on immigration and Euroscepticism. This rift will worsen as the elections progress.
Marine Le Pen, President of National Front Party
Marine Le Pen, President of National Front Party 
(Source: Pascal Rossignol, Reuters)

Center Right is Most Likely to Win

Within UMP there are two front main candidates at the moment; Sarkozy and Juppé. They both have their own advantages, which makes it difficult to foresee who will win. While Sarkozy is the most popular among outright members of the party, Juppé has a lot of support from center-right voters and former Hollande voters.

Within the primaries the rivalry between the two will start to ramp up, revealing tension and discord within UMP. Juppé will bring up the impending court cases against Sarkozy for wire-tapping while Sarkozy will target Juppé’s awkward manner and uninspiring speeches.

Positive Outlook for Reform in the Future

Although it is traditionally resistant to reform, France is becoming more open and willing to discuss a more progressive agenda. The French people support introducing more flexible short-term contracts and allowing stores to be open later and on Sundays. Furthermore, if Sarkozy or Juppé become the next president, neither will run for a second term in 2022. Therefore, they will be able to introduce bolder reforms with less fear about losing support from the far right. 


References:

  [1] Rose, Michel “French far-right Le Pen family set for regional power wins: poll,” Reuters, Oct 2015.

  [2] Ibid.

  [3] Callus, Andrew, “Hollande says France growth to reach 1.1 pct this year”, Reuters, Oct 2015

  [4] Nossiter, Adam, “Leaders of France’s Socialist Party Defy Its Orthodoxy”, New York Times, Oct 2015

  [5] Ibid.

  [6] Ibid.

  [7] Bon, Gerard, Melander, Ingrid, “France’s far-right party targets Muslim vote in Paris region” Reuters, Oct 2015

  [8] Ibid.

  [9] Ibid.

  [10] Ibid.

  [11]  Melander, Ingrid, “Le Pen’s far right eyes gains in depressed French north” Reuters, Oct 2015

  [12] Ibid.

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