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France

With an eye to 2012, Sarkozy party turns to its base

Text by Joseph BAMAT

Latest update : 2011-07-15

Facing a disillusioned and fractured voting base ahead of presidential elections next year, the ruling UMP party's leadership is launching a comprehensive survey among members.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s party is doing some serious soul searching. The country’s ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party has sent a long questionnaire to some 400,000 current and former members, in a first clear attempt to rally its voting base ahead of the 2012 presidential elections.

The 16-page questionnaire covers a wide range of information, asking members about such things as their age and salary, as well as what issues most concern them.

Officially, it is meant to “place party members at the heart of our manifesto’s construction,” according to party chief Jean-Francois Copé (pictured) and results will be unveiled to UMP supporters at an informal party congress in Marseille in September.

But it is also being seen as an attempt to reconnect with its party’s increasingly disillusioned and fractured rank and file.

“It’s no secret that after growing during the 2007 presidential elections, the party has suffered a real drop in membership,” said Jérôme Sainte-Marie, director of the opinion department at the CSA polling agency.

Sarkozy’s centre-right party has seen its support wane in recent months. Many of its more conservative members voted for the far-right National Front (FN) in local elections in March. Meanwhile, prominent UMP centrists like former ministers Jean-Louis Borloo and Rama Yade have formally broken with the party.

Enough reasons to take a long, hard look at what the UMP foot soldiers are saying. “[The UMP] takes the participation of its members very seriously,” said Sainte-Marie about the questionnaire. “This is not a party that thinks that the presidential campaign only takes place on television.”

Mobilising the base

The in-party surveys were mailed at a time of renewed hope for France’s ruling party. The president’s approval ratings hit rock-bottom in March, and for months the French press reported that Sarkozy’s bid for re-election in 2012 looked all but lost.

Now Sarkozy has caught up with Socialist Party candidates who want to make him a one-term president, according to a poll published on Wednesday. The CSA survey found that Sarkozy and Socialist presidential hopeful Francois Hollande would both receive 26 per cent of votes if the elections were held today.

And while opinion polls in May put FN candidate Marine Le Pen ahead of Sarkozy, CSA’s latest survey says her support has slipped to 17 per cent.

According to CSA’s Sainte-Marie, Sarkozy owes his resurgence to two factors. First is the wearing off of the political novelty that propelled Le Pen earlier this year. And second, Dominique-Strauss Kahn’s legal troubles, which will keep the former IMF chief far from the race.

“For two or three months the UMP’s leadership no longer believed victory was possible,” Saint-Marie said. “[UMP leader Copé] was already looking ahead at the 2017 race, figuring 2012 was lost”.

Surprises, like Strauss-Kahn’s fall from grace, could once again shift France’s political landscape before the presidential elections next April. While the UMP’s top brass still face an upward struggle, they now have a fighting chance to stay in power

They hope the new questionnaire can lay the groundwork for next year’s campaign. “The party’s leadership is now mobilized, but we can’t say the same for rank and file members,” Saint-Marie explained.

Date created : 2011-07-15

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