Huffpost Pollster, April 16th
I’ve been in a tizzy the past week, along with most others here of my general political sensibility, over the stunning surge of Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the polls and the now very real possibility that he could make it to the 2nd round next Sunday—and once there, actually win. My blogging confrère Arthur Goldhammer expressed the general sentiment of those on the smart left, informing his readers early in the week that it was now “Nail-biting time” and that he was “beginning to get seriously worried about this election,” then writing mid-week of “Panic in Paris,” and finally, on Friday, offering an anguished Facebook status update that simply read “I have a very bad feeling about the upcoming French election,” and with numerous commenters, including myself, agreeing entirely.
Now many observers have been tipping their hats to Mélenchon for his astute, well-executed national-populist campaign strategy—again, including myself, after the two times I saw him speak over the past month (here and here)—which is quite different from his more classic leftist one of 2012. But absolutely no one saw him breaking even 15%, let alone reaching 20. This is breathtaking. I have asserted countless times over the years that there is an electoral ceiling of 14% for the radical left in a French presidential election, i.e. of the total score of all candidates to the left of the Socialists (excluding Les Verts), for the simple reason that the last time the gauche de la gauche surpassed this was in 1981, which was two generations ago and another era. Mélenchon’s manifestly successful campaign signifies that we’re maybe entering a new era, of a newly radicalized left and with a national-populist hue.
N.B. Jean-Luc Mélenchon is, at the present moment, the most popular political personality in France (emphasis added). The latest IPSOS-Le Point political baromètre, released last Wednesday, has his favorable rating spiking 15% in one month, to 56% positive/35% negative. Take a look at this graph from the IPSOS website last week
JLM is viewed favorably even by 40% of LR/UDI voters and 38% of FN voters. Behind him is Alain Juppé at +50/-40 and then Emmanuel Macron at +48/-43. Everyone else (save Jean-Yves Le Drian) is in negative territory. The latest IFOP-Fiducial-Paris Match-Sud Radio tableau de bord politique, released on Thursday, likewise shows JLM as France’s most popular politician, with 68% having an overall “good opinion” of him—compared to 46% in March—and 29% a “bad opinion.” Breaking the percentages down by intensity of feeling, 16% have an outright “excellent” opinion of JLM and a mere 8% a “very bad” opinion (FYI, I’m in that 8%). As in the IPSOS ranking, IFOP has JLM followed in popularity by Juppé (+60/-38) and Macron (+55/-40). And he’s the only politico in France whose “excellent” rating is in the double digits.
When I saw these numbers, my jaw dropped. This is, objectively speaking, insane. Jean-Luc Mélenchon is not exactly a newcomer on the French political scene. He’s been around for a while and anyone with a merely passing interest in politics knows him and his trash-talking gauchiste persona. So WTF is going on here? This cannot be just his performance in the March 20th and April 4th multi-candidate debates. Ça ne peut pas suffire. The fact of the matter is, JLM has tapped into something profound in the id of a sizable part of the French electorate—both left and right—which I personally do not relate to but that is there. On this, I received an email a week ago from a faithful AWAV reader in Marseille—who is French, secular Jewish, a retired advertising executive, on the moderate left but no gauchiste—after JLM’s rally in the city. What he wrote is interesting and instructive, as his sentiments are no doubt shared by many
Il y a la politique et puis il y a la politique.
I gave up on joining the crowd sur le Vieux Port, because it was already past 2 pm and I wanted to hear Meluche in good conditions, so I stayed home and watched him on TV… The magic worked, I had to admire the man and the talent.
He brought tears in my eyes. I didn’t agree on all of what he said, but I agreed on his choice of words, the value and the weight of the words, the tone, the gravity, the music, the emotional content.
It is part of my French heritage. It speaks to my roots. This is what France is all about. Something lyrical, fierce, generous and noble as is the Marseillaise.
After the poem by Ritsos, I would have voted for him, right away.
We miss that warmth and “bravoure”. Whatever was likable in Mitterrand was linked to that when it was not just plain theatrical. I remember his first trip to Moscow and the way he mentioned human rights. Chirac somehow still managed to sometimes convey sparks of that, but then it was gone.
Of course one can easily object that we shouldn’t vote for (populist) orators but for programs and candidates, yes and yet… the public speech capacity is meaningful.
We need to vibrate, we need to experience the feeling of shared mutual understanding.
All the intellectual abstract matter put aside for a moment, it is like looking into the eyes and being looked into the eyes. I understand why Meluche is increasingly popular, none of the other candidates reaches out to us like he does. (Poutou had such a stroke of genius during the debate when he chastised the crooks). MLP used to be dangerously good at that but luckily now she just sucks.
I can’t feel any real deep public support, it is just the same old crowd of angry, frustrated and scared people.
Hamon is too brainy, Macron appears as your local more or less understanding banker but conveys almost no emotion at all.
I don’t go to church, I don’t listen to homilies, so maybe Fillon does talk to traditional Catholic families and provincial annuitants [but not me]…
In a follow-up email, he added
As I wrote, Meluche…makes me realize how much the other contenders’ speeches are filled with hollow bullshit and lacking human feelings and emotions. And we need that.
They speak the same way computers design cars based on consumer research which is why all the mid range cars look exactly the same.
I was listening to Dupont-Aignan and was surprised with his eloquence, then I saw that he was in a good position among the “hommes politiques préférés des Français” with 28%.
He speaks as a human being.
So I indeed like Meluche’s music, even though I don’t agree with all the verses of his song. Still some are pretty good.
A guy who, in this election, in front of 70 000 people, in Marseille, can ask for a minute de silence in memory of the 30,000 migrants who drowned in the Mediterranean and remind the crowd that two children drown there every day, well I respect his chutzpah.
Oratory touches people. And not all voters, even those interested in politics and who follow campaigns, focus on the actual programs of the candidates or parties and what precisely these are proposing. Voters viscerally connect with candidates who speak to them and share their values. (And all this goes for me too).
E.g. Libération, in its April 13th issue, quoted newly converted Mélenchon voters and their explanations. School teacher Stéphanie, age 42, thus offered this
À force d’écouter et de lire Jean-Luc Mélenchon, je suis tombée sous son charme. Sa manière de parler et d’expliquer sa vision est fantastique. On est obligé de tendre l’oreille. Le déclic est arrivé pendant le débat télévisé. J’ai eu le sentiment de voir des enfants face à un adulte. Il est au-dessus du lot, comme Alain Juppé, il rassure, il a de l’expérience et la France a besoin de ça.
Aujourd’hui, face aux crises que traverse notre pays, il faut une personne qui rassemble. Jean-Luc Mélenchon a l’air sincère, il ne monte jamais les citoyens les uns contre les autres. Après, c’est vrai que je ne suis pas d’accord avec une partie de son programme, notamment l’économie et sa position sur la Russie. Mais il a l’air de savoir ce qu’il fait et pour moi, aujourd’hui, la priorité, c’est la cohésion nationale.
And this from retired university cadre Roland, age 67
[Jean-Luc Mélenchon] est dans une dynamique qui tranche avec les propositions de la plupart des candidats en situation de gagner et qui sont tous pour ce qui a échoué – les guerres en Afghanistan, en Libye, en Irak – avec l’augmentation du budget de la Défense ou le doublement de l’arsenal nucléaire comme l’a inscrit Jean-Yves Le Drian dans la loi de programmation militaire.
J’ai aussi beaucoup aimé le discours de Mélenchon sur les migrants qui sont des victimes et non des coupables. Il s’est clairement opposé à tous les apprentis sorciers qui en font des boucs émissaires, qui poussent à la xénophobie et au racisme comme si l’étranger était la cause de nos difficultés.
I knew something was up early last week when I asked my 23-year-old, Hamon-supporting daughter what her friends were saying about the election. She said that a few who planned to vote for Hamon were thinking of switching to Mélenchon, as a vote utile to insure that a candidate of the left made it to the 2nd round. When I told her that there are significant differences between Hamon and Mélenchon on several major issues, notably Europe, she replied that they were aware of that. But it was clear that they—along with many other voters who have defected to JLM or are considering it—are not overly familiar with JLM’s program beyond the slogans. The fact that he is de gauche suffices.
It would be helpful if voters did look into what JLM is actually advocating. For the record, here is my reply to my Marseille friend
On JLM, who’s the sensation of this fin de campagne, I fear that too many people are privileging form over substance — are being taken in by his lyricism and poetry, and not paying close attention to the actual content of his crazy rhetoric. I can comprehend some of JLM’s appeal but, at least from my way of thinking, there is nothing compelling about his program, which is – take your pick – half-baked, pie-in-the-sky, or downright pernicious and dangerous: on Europe, taxation, geopolitics, a 6ème République, you name it. If JLM were to somehow to accede to the Elysée palace and implement his program, it would be a fiasco of the first order. The only cause of relative optimism in such an eventuality would be the impossibility of JLM attaining anything approaching a parliamentary majority following the legislative election, which would render him politically impotent. With Trump in the White House outre-Atlantique, I don’t want to have to contemplate a similar situation over here.
As for JLM’s thoughts on the Mediterranean migrants, words are cheap and moments of silence are even more so. I would have liked to hear him say what France should have done had those 30K Africans survived their journey: take them all in, grant refugee status, and allow them to integrate the labor market? France is, after all, the fifth largest economy in the world, as JLM likes to remind people, so could surely afford to take in those 30K Africans and then some, n’est-ce pas? Oh well.
I don’t exclude JLM making it to the 2nd round. At this point, all sorts of heretofore improbable scenarios are now in the realm of the possible. If it’s JLM-Macron, the choice is clear. JLM-Fillon: je vote blanc ou nul. JLM-MLP: I’ll obviously vote JLM but this is truly the nightmare scenario, so let’s not dwell on it…
On the JLM-MLP nightmare scenario: pour mémoire, here is what I wrote last February 22nd, when the scenario appeared far-fetched at best
The nightmare scenario: Fillon’s and Macron’s numbers go south…and with Hamon losing ground on the left to Jean-Luc Mélenchon. With the four candidates all bunched in the mid-teens—and Marine at 30%—Mélenchon ekes out a narrow second place finish and goes on to face MLP on May 7th. The right votes as one for Marine and with centrist and center-left voters emigrating en masse to Canada or maybe killing themselves. And Marine wins.
Marine Le Pen will not reach 30% next Sunday and is, at this point, not a surefire slam dunk to make the 2nd round, as has been assumed by all and sundry since the onset of the campaign. She’s down five or six points from her high point in the polls and her campaign is sputtering. Philippe Poutou’s devastating take-down in the April 4th circus-debate—which left her speechless—was possibly a turning point in the campaign, and her gaffe on the Rafle du Vel d’Hiv’—which was less anti-Jewish than just so stupid and gratuitously damaging to her—did not help matters. Years of patient de-demonizing up in smoke. Her favorable/unfavorable rating in the latest IPSOS ranking is +27/-67 (down from 30/66 in March); at IFOP it’s +32/-68 (and with 43% holding a “very bad” opinion of her). Inevitable conclusion: in a JLM-MLP match-up, JLM wins.
For JLM to beat MLP, he would necessarily need at least some votes from the right and, contrary to what I said in February, will certainly get enough. As the latest IPSOS and IFOP rankings show, JLM is attracting a significant minority of right-wing sympathizers, which, in view of his France First nationalist rhetoric, evolution on the immigration issue, and downplaying classic leftist themes, should hardly be surprising. And one domain in particular in which JLM’s rhetoric will be music to at least some right-wing ears is on Europe and particularly Germany. Last week I read JLM’s 2015 book/pamphlet Le hareng de Bismarck: Le poison allemand. The German poison. The book/pamphlet is billed as a “critique” of Germany and its economic policies, though it is, in point of fact, a violent, 200-page diatribe against that country: not just for its ordoliberalism, obsession with inflation, austerity policies et al—which do merit critique (for one that does it excellently, see Guillaume Duval’s Made in Germany)—but of the entire German nation and across the board. The book is an outrage: I was in a state of indignation while reading it, not at what the author was saying but at the author himself. To know what’s in the screed, go to the critique by retired PS politico (and onetime Trotskyist) Henri Weber (on his blog, which is the long version of his Le Monde op-ed on the book; see also the open letter to JLM by Cécile Duflot in Libé). Only a franchouillard nationalist could have signed his name to such a venomous attack on France’s most important partner in Europe. When it comes to franchouillard nationalists—and who have an existential problem with Germany—they are more numerous on the right than the left. Thus a certain indulgence toward JLM from the other side of the political spectrum.
Reading JLM’s ill-informed Germanophobic tract causes one to question the oft-stated observation of him being intellectually cultivated. It also reinforces my assertion last week that he utterly lacks the temperament to be president of the French republic. Honestly, can one imagine him sitting across the table negotiating with Angela Merkel, Wolfgang Schäuble et al (and who are all familiar with what JLM has written about Germany)?
Art Goldhammer has an excellent blog post today, “Response to a reader on why I do not support Mélenchon.” I agree with every last word of it. And if one hasn’t seen my somewhat less measured critique of five years ago, go here.
This post is almost 2,800 words and I’ve hardly had a word about the other candidates, and notably Emmanuel Macron. As his big Paris rally is tomorrow afternoon, and which I plan to attend, I will do so after that. Likewise for Marine LP, whose Paris rally is tomorrow evening (and which I’ll also try to make it to). Benoît Hamon is having an concert-rally at the Place de la République on Wednesday, which I’ll check out. As for François Fillon, I didn’t go to his meeting at the Palais des Sports last Sunday. Seeing him at the Trocadéro was enough.
With a week to go, I’m going out on a limb, rolling the dice, and provisionally predicting that Mélenchon and Macron will go to the 2nd round, for the sole reason of their positive favorable/unfavorable ratings. Marine LP’s already execrable numbers have worsened and Fillon’s are catastrophic: +24/-70 at IPSOS, +27/-72 at IFOP, i.e. even worse than Marine’s. The French people in their considerable majority want neither of these two.
UPDATE: Guillaume Duval of Alternatives Économiques had a tribune in Libération, dated April 12th, critiquing both Macron and Mélenchon. On the latter:
A gauche de la gauche, on suit désormais le panache rouge d’un vieux tribun blanchi sous le harnais de la politique politicienne depuis son plus jeune âge. Il parle certes très bien et maîtrise tous ses classiques à gauche, mais il n’en propose pas moins un programme surréaliste sur le plan économique. Alors que la France se place déjà en tête de tous les pays développés avec 56 % du PIB de dépenses publiques, il entend porter ce ratio à 64 % en un seul quinquennat en augmentant ces dépenses de 173 milliards d’euros par an. Et cela tout en empruntant aussi, dès la première année, 100 milliards d’euros supplémentaires sur les marchés financiers, soit l’équivalent de 4,5 points de PIB, alors que la France approche déjà les 100 % du PIB de dette publique. Soit dit en passant pour un programme qui se veut très «écolo», il est aussi, parmi les principaux candidats, celui qui mise sur le niveau le plus élevé de croissance économique pour boucler son affaire. Tout cela sans que lui-même ni ses partisans ne doutent un instant de la faisabilité politique, sociale et économique, interne au moins autant qu’externe, d’une telle politique ni de ses conséquences potentiellement désastreuses si elle était effectivement mise en œuvre. Il faut dire que Jean-Luc Mélenchon est de longue date un admirateur de Hugo Chávez et de Nicolás Maduro…
Libération’s Jean Quatremer, in a Facebook debate yesterday with a Mélenchon-supporting academic sociologist, nailed it with this comment (my translation)
JLM: here is a man who wants to sit at the table with a dictator [Putin] to discuss the borders of a country [Russia] that has not asked anything of him, exactly like at Munich, who admires Chavez, Maduro, Castro, who wants to leave the EU, NATO, the IMF, World Bank, the OECD, to abrogate all trade agreements, close France in on itself, except to join the Bolivarian Alliance… yes this man is clearly not a democrat. His Sixth Republic is exactly the type of exercise that would allow him to consolidate his power. I am astounded at the blindness of people whose precise profession is to engage in critical thinking.
And on what basis would France join the Bolivarian Alliance? Because France is a South American power, so says JLM, as Guiana is a French département. Sans blague.
Le Huffington Post, April 14th