Sunday, April 22, 2007

France's first round: lack of surprise is a surprise

Looks like the polls were more accurate than anyone wanted to admit. With about 64% of votes counted, Nicolas Sarkozy of the UMP has taken over 30%, with Ségolène Royal, the Socialist candidate, taking just under 25%. François Bayrou of the Christian-democratic UDF is around 18% and perennial nationalist candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen has 11%.

Extremely high turnout, probably around 85%, was advantageous to the main candidates. It seems many, many people turned out because they did not want to see a spoiler candidate (i.e., Le Pen) in the second round. And those who voted Le Pen last time as a protest this time either voted for a main candidate or for one of the other candidates. The polls did not hide any Le Pen votes as Sarkozy votes this time around.

What does this mean for the second round? Well, Sarkozy has made a very strong showing. He needs to net some of Bayrou's following while also managing to convince those who voted for Le Pen to come around to him--i.e. appeal to the center and to the right. Royal has a tougher time, as she will probably take the vote going to the smaller leftist candidates, but absolutely needs a strong majority of those who voted for Bayrou. This is possible, if she can continue to frame Sarkozy as too extreme and liberalizing.

All that said, the polls going into today were showing a very narrow (2-4 point) Sarkozy lead in a hypothetical runoff. Still, I give Sarkozy a 60-40 shot at this point.

Oh yeah... how did I do? Well, I accurately stated that the two major candidates would make the runoff, but definitely underestimated their percentages, and overestimated Le Pen. Everyone, including me, was looking for a surprise; but the only surprise was the turnout, not the percentages.

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