What will the 6.4 million people who voted for Marine Le Pen do in the second round? Nicolas Sarkozy needs to capture a very large fraction of the 17.9% who cast their vote for the Front National if he is to stand a chance of being re-elected in two weeks’ time. Sarkozy has led a very right-wing campaign so far in which the themes of immigration, law and order and defence of the borders have prominently featured. Patrick Buisson, an influential advisor with an extreme-right pedigree, has convinced Sarkozy that this strategy will keep him in power. The president has confessed that if he had not matched Le Pen’s hard-right rhetoric, he would by now find himself in an even more desperate position.
This strategy is not only politically shameful and dangerous, it is also arithmetically flawed. According to an Ipsos poll carried out on Sunday, 60% of Le Pen supporters will consider voting Sarkozy in the second round; 18% will choose François Hollande and 22% will abstain. Yet various polls have also indicated that Hollande will emphatically defeat Sarkozy in the runoff (Ipsos: 54% vs. 46%; BVA: 53% v. 47%; Harris Interactive: 54% vs. 46%; Ifop: 54.5% vs. 45.5%; and CSA: 56% vs. 44%). Sarkozy seems to have reached a ceiling among FN voters and cannot expect further transfers. He has nowhere to find the votes to catch up on his socialist rival. According to Ipsos, François Bayrou’s votes (centre-right) are split in three roughly equal parts: 33% prefer Hollande, 32% will support Sarkozy and 35% will abstain. Clearly, Sarkozy’s shift to the right has put off most centrist voters. Conversely, 86% of Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s voters will cast their vote for Hollande, while 11% will abstain and 3% will choose Sarkozy. The incumbent president cannot expect to gain many votes from abstentionists as participation can hardly be higher in the second round than the 80% turnout in the first round.
Supporters of the radical left may not be keen on Hollande’s moderate programme but above all they abhor Sarkozy and want him out. They will use the Hollande vote to do just that. On the extreme-right, voters are much more ambivalent with regard to the incumbent president. Most of them harshly criticise his record on the economy, immigration and “defence of the French identity”. He is often described as “untrustworthy”, a “liar” and a man who has at heart the best interests, not of “ordinary French workers”, but of the “Brussels elites”. The FN electorate has a significant working class component (29%; although one should bear in mind that abstention among blue-collar workers in France can reach up to 70%). These working-class voters are disdainful of a president who portrays himself as an “outsider” or a “man of the people”. They are well aware of his luxurious lifestyle and they realise that he has consistently favoured the rich since 2007. Sarkozy is not one of them, but the main representative of “globalised capitalism” in France; a president who has done nothing to slow down immigration. Many of them voted for Sarkozy in the first round of the 2007 election. They now feel betrayed and angry. Some would rather vote for Hollande who will protect them more on socio-economic issues. Furthermore, Hollande is seen by many “frontistes” as a “decent individual”.
This segment of FN supporters is fast growing. These lower-middle and working-class voters tend to live in rural and suburban areas, but also in former industrialised regions (Nord-Pas-Calais and the North-East). These regions have been hit hard by the economic crisis and have high unemployment rates. These individuals are the losers of economic globalisation and feel despised by the “Paris elites” who vote PS or UMP. They are class conscious and support more egalitarian policies, but they above all value the preservation of national identity which, they argue, is threatened by relentless waves of immigration. Although they do not consider themselves “left-wing”; and even less “socialist”, they can easily switch their vote to any socialist or leftwing candidate in the second round of an election.
Some considered voting for Jean-Luc Mélenchon but eventually chose to back Le Pen. Mélenchon’s socio-economic programme, however appealing it may have been to some of them, presented one crippling default: it did not address the question of immigration; worse, it seemed to welcome it. For those FN voters, immigration is the ultimate weapon of Capital against working-class people.