The French voters have winnowed a ten-person presidential field down to two – Socialist Party candidate Francois Hollande (the first place finisher) and incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy, who finished second. Ultra-nationalist candidate Marine Le Pen finished a very strong third.
Here are the latest results that I have seen, rounded to the nearest half percent:
Hollande – 29 percent
Sarkozy – 26 percent
Le Pen – 18. 5 percent
Jean-Luc Mélenchon – 11.5 percent
Francois Beyrou – 9 percent
Others – 6 percent
The conventional wisdom, based on polling, has held that Sarkozy would have very little chance in a run-off against Hollande. The first round results suggest that, although Sarkozy’s prospects may be better than many have supposed, he is indeed in serious trouble.
Melenchon is a hard left-wing candidate and Hollande can expect to capture the vast majority of his votes. Most of the “others” in the race are leftist fringe candidates. To the extent their supporters vote, they will tilt strongly for Hollande. This coalition of support would, by itself, bring Hollande pretty close to victory.
Hollande can expect virtually no support from the Le Pen voters. The question is, to what extent will they flock to Sarkozy. To maximize his support among this faction, Sarkozy will have to sound strongly nationalistic themes (in my view, he is a true nationalist in the good sense) without alienating centrists, the constituency of Bayrou and, presumably, a component of Sarkozy’s first-round support. It is a portion of the Bayrou vote that is likely to push Hollande over the top.
In sum, Sarkozy is in a precarious position, as one would expect of an incumbent president of a European country in the current environment. However, the fact that he finished close to Hollande, coupled with Le Pen’s strong showing, suggests that a small shift in public sentiment due, for example, to a debate, conceivable could see Sarko squeak through. For his part, Hollande will attempt to run out the clock through the same plodding style that has brought him to the brink of the French presidency.