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French Election: Hollande Victory?

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Hollande is on course for 54-46% victory in round two, explains Peter Kellner as YouGov tracks French Presidential Election

Had France completed its presidential election on a single day, Francois Hollande would now be President-elect, having defeated Nicolas Sarkozy in the run-off vote by 54-46%.

This is YouGov’s projection, based on last week’s survey of almost 2,000 French electors. In common with the other eight polling organisations’ final figures, we understated the support of Marine Le Pen, the far right candidate, and overstated the support of Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the far left. However, our overall error was one of the best, at 1.3 percentage points, and we were one of only two companies to get both Hollande and Sarkozy right within one percentage point.

To produce our round-two projection, we asked supporters of the eight eliminated candidates how they would vote in a Sarkozy-Hollande run-off. We then applied these figures to the support each candidate secured in round one, according to the official results. These divide four-to-three in Hollande’s favour. Supporters of Mélenchon, and the defeated Green candidate, Eva Joly, transfer to Holland almost en bloc. Le Pen’s vote divides two-to-one for Sarkozy (who also collects most of the second preferences of the right, winger, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan). Support for the centrist Francois Bayrou divides fairly evenly. (The remaining three defeated candidates secured too few votes to make much difference in the second round.)

Let me stress that this is a projection, based on round one voting patterns, not a prediction of what will happen in two weeks’ time. Attitudes could shift – for example following the coming television debate between Hollande and Sarkozy, or if Marine Le Pen or Francois Bayrou publicly advise their supporters what to do. (Mélenchon and Joly have already adviser their supporters to back Hollande.)

However, Sarkozy needs to overcome his dangerously negative image if he is to overturn Hollande’s eight-point lead. We tested eight different attributes. These are the figures for the top four candidates:





% who say each candidate is…

Hollande

 Sarkozy

 Le Pen

Mélenchon

Agreeable 56 37 34 46
Really wants to change things 54 40 55 55
Understands the problems of people like you 53 29 44 54
Honest 51 30 37 44
Earnest 45 40 50 45
Competent 40 46 31 36
Has what it takes to be president 36 56 27 29
Scary 28 43 45 28

Hollande defeats Sarkozy hands down on honesty and understanding ‘people like you’. Sarkozy is regarded as almost as scary and disagreeable as Le Pen. His sole advantages are that he leads the field for competence and having ‘what it takes to be president’. These are the advantages one would expect an incumbent to enjoy: without them, Sarkozy would now be looking not just at defeat but humiliation.

The President’s best chance of overhauling Hollande appears to be to change the terms of debate on the economy. We asked which of ten policy areas was voters’ main concern. Overall, unemployment (31%) came top, followed by debt (20%). But whereas Sarkozy’s supporters stressed debt (37%) far more than unemployment (15%), the figures for Hollande’s supporters were almost exactly reversed (unemployment 39%, debt 13%). If Sarkozy can persuade more voters that reducing debt is a necessary first step to tackling unemployment, he might start gaining on Hollande.

Then, of course, there’s immigration. Overall, just 12% say it is their top concern; but among Le Pen’s supporters, the proportion jumps to 46%. Sarkozy must be tempted to move to the right ahead of round two in order to appeal to more of her voters. If he does, it will be a moot point whether he gains credit for taking a hard-line – or loses it for acting cynically.

See the survey details and full results here (in English)