French left still lost in the wilderness

We noted a couple of weeks ago the selection of Valérie Pécresse as the centre-right candidate for next April’s presidential election in France. I remarked at the time that although her polling was mediocre, “the underlying strength of the centre-right is substantial,” and as the endorsed candidate she was now in the position to tap more of it.

Sure enough, Pécresse is now looking much better in the polls. The first-round polling aggregates at both Politico and Wikipedia have her running second, behind centrist incumbent Emmanuel Macron but ahead of the two far-right candidates, Marine Le Pen and Éric Zemmour. A hypothetical runoff against Macron is too close to call.

That’s bad news for the president: Pécresse is the candidate he would least like to face in the second round. But if Zemmour’s candidacy continues to fade, it’s reasonably likely that Le Pen will corner more of the far right vote and resume the second place that she has held for most of the last five years.

Spare a thought, though, for the French left. The unity that the centre-right has found still eludes it completely. Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the far-left Unsubmissive France, who ran fourth in both the last two elections, is polling the best with around 10%. He is followed by the Greens’ Yannick Jadot in the mid single figures, a little ahead of the Socialist Party’s Anne Hidalgo. Former industry minister Arnaud Montebourg and Fabien Roussel, leader of the once mighty Communist Party, are bringing up the rear.

If this diversity continues, there is no chance of any of them reaching the second round. They will fragment the left vote and will again, as in 2017, be reduced to choosing between Macron and a candidate to his right. And with varying degrees of reluctance they will back Macron (although last time Mélenchon refused an official endorsement).

Since she was endorsed by her party in October, Hidalgo has been trying to forge some sort of common approach, suggesting an open primary in which left-of-centre voters could choose a single candidate. Montebourg gave qualified support to the idea, but the other three have all rejected it.

Instead, yet another candidate has put her head above the parapet: Christiane Taubira, former justice minister, has indicated an interest in running, but also supports the idea of an open primary. A grassroots organisation, “Popular Primary”, proposes to organise such a vote for late January, using a quasi-Condorcet method in a single round of voting.

It’s possible that some consolidation of the field will result, although even that is no certainty. But with the first round of the election set for 10 April, it’s much too late to be launching a new campaign. The problem is nothing new (it’s what cost the left victory way back in 2002); it should have been foreseen and the search for consensus started much earlier.

And even with all the time in the world, it’s hard to imagine anything that would induce Mélenchon to withdraw, given both his natural intransigence and the fact that he is well ahead of the others in the polls. And since the mainstream Socialists are politically closer to Macron (who started out as one of them) than to Mélenchon, any move to anoint him as the sole candidate would equally be doomed to failure.

The aggregate of the left candidates in the polls is in the low to mid-20s, well ahead of Pécresse and competitive with Macron. But the chance of harnessing that all behind a single candidate seems as remote as ever. Sportsbet’s most recent odds look sadly realistic: Hidalgo the leader among them on 20-1, followed by Mélenchon at 33-1 and the rest nowhere.


4 thoughts on “French left still lost in the wilderness

  1. If your first preference is to get a candidate of your own party/group/alignment elected President, and your next priority, should your first preference be unattainable, is to get a candidate of a similar party/group/alignment elected President, then that’s a strong motive to work for similar parties/groups to agree to combine behind a single candidate. However, if your first preference is to get a candidate of your own party/group/alignment elected President, and your next priority, should your first preference be unattainable, is to broaden and strengthen your support base, then that’s a strong motive to run your own candidate regardless, and you have little incentive to seek an agreement to combine, unless you are close to certain that your candidate will be the agreed candidate of the combination. It’s beside the point to object that the behaviour of La France Insoumise, the Greens, and/or the Communists doesn’t help to elect a left candidate If that isn’t a priority for them (beside the point, I mean, from that perspective). If you tell people that they’re sabotaging a shared project, it’s not irrational for them to respond that it’s not their shared project.

    You may well be aware of all this, but to me it seems worth making explicit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks J-D, that’s very well put. In practice, I think most political parties juggle those different priorities; if they can’t get their own candidate up, they’d like to elect someone broadly sympathetic, but they’d also like to build their own brand, so they may go one way or the other. And all these decisions are made under conditions of uncertainty – so it makes a difference, for example, whether a common left candidate would be likely to win or would probably still lose. (Also some parties may actually prefer that the presidency goes to an ideological opponent rather than an ally, thinking that they will then be better placed for next time.)


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