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Potential mass vote absention 'a danger' for France's Socialists

4 min

An opinion poll released Sunday shows the 2012 presidential election could see the highest rate of abstention in the history of the modern French Republic. For frontrunning Socialist candidate François Hollande, that is a cause for real concern.


Some 32 per cent of the French electorate is expected to abstain from voting in the forthcoming presidential election, according to a recent opinion poll. It would be a record for the French Republic and of particular concern for the Socialist Party, which has the most to lose.

According to a French Institute of Public Opinion (IFOP) poll published in the weekly Journal de Dimanche, the number of voters saying they won’t cast their ballot is bigger than the number supporting any of the leading candidates in the first round of the vote.

“The French are fed up with the election campaign so far,” Stephane Rozès of research institute Advice, Analyses and Perspectives told FRANCE 24. “It has been too focussed on personal attacks against rival candidates.

“Everyone is waiting for the main candidates to talk about how France is going to deal with the financial crisis, and neither President Nicolas Sarkozy nor Socialist candidate Francois Hollande have got round to answering these question,” he added.

“They have not touched on the themes that are of interest to voters, such as unemployment and the rising cost of living.”

Jerome Fouquet, senior researcher at IFOP, told FRANCE 24 that voters felt disenfranchised by the political discourse.

“They don’t see how any one candidate is going to solve any of their immediate problems,” he said. “They also feel that the interests of big business are a much higher priority for the candidates than are the interests of the French people.”

Dangerous ground

Fouquet pointed out that most of those saying they would abstain were young or working class, and that these were mostly left-wing voters. According to the IFOP poll, only 46 per cent of working class voters intend to cast ballots in the first round on April 22.

“The danger for Hollande is that many potential Socialist voters assume that he’s going to win anyway, and so they won’t bother casting their ballot,” he said. “This high level of abstention muddies the waters and makes any prediction much more complicated.”

The Socialists have real cause for concern. The last time abstentions were nearly as high was in April 2002, when 28 per cent of voters failed to turn out in the first round.

It led to a big embarrassment for the Socialist Party when far-right National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen secured nearly 200,000 more votes than his Socialist rival Lionel Jospin and went through to the second round against Jacques Chirac.

François Hollande has taken note of the IFOP poll. Campaigning in French overseas territory Réunion, an island in the Indian Ocean, he told reporters on Tuesday that “nothing in this election was a foregone conclusion.”

“With an abstention level this high, none of the opinion polls can be considered reliable,” he said.

On Tuesday, an Ipsos poll showed Sarkozy taking a lead with 29.5 percent against Hollande's 27.5 per cent in the first round of the vote. For the moment, Hollande enjoys a lead of 56 per cent over Sarkozy's 44 per cent in the second round.


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