French far-right sees popularity rise after Paris attacks
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A poll conducted just after the the November 13 Paris shootings has put far-right candidate Marion Maréchal Le Pen well in the lead to win the presidency of the southern Provence-Alpes-Cote-d'Azur region (PACA) in December's regional elections.
Marion Maréchal Le Pen, granddaughter of National Front (FN) founder Jean-Marie Le Pen and the youngest sitting member of the National Assembly, will get 40% of the ballot in a first round of the vote, according to the Ipsos poll (elections in France go to a second round if no candidate gets more than 50% in the first round).
Just behind her is former minister and current Nice mayor Christian Estrosi, leading the centre-right coalition of The Republicans-UDI-MoDem, which got 30% in the first round and 34% in the second, according to the poll.
Hollande's Socialist party candidate Christophe Castaner polled just 25% in the second round.
According to Jean-Yves Camus, associate researcher at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS) and expert on the French far right, 25-year-old Maréchal Le Pen's anti-immigrant and anti-Islam message resonates with the public in urban areas such as Nice “which is a big transit point for refugees entering France through Italy”.
Her popularity reflects a collapse in support for the mainstream conservative opposition, which has foundered amid President François Hollande's robust response to the shootings, Camus told FRANCE 24.
The Socialist candidate Castaner told RTL radio he was “astonished” at the poor results for Christian Estrosi, a former minister and member of former president Nicolas Sarkozy's “The Republicans” party.
“The collapse in popularity for his conservative group can only play into the FN's hands,” he said.
“The Republicans alarmingly small score [in the poll], even though Estrosi has all the conservative parties behind him, is dangerous for our region,” he added. “It can only help the FN.”
The apparent sidelining of Sarkozy's mainstream conservative opposition is down in large part to President Hollande's call to action after the November 13 attacks, a response that has been attractive to the French electorate.
A BVA poll conducted in the week after the November 13 attacks gave Hollande 33% approval, up from the dismal 25% he scored in a poll at the end of October.
The number of people surveyed who held a negative image of the president dropped from 75% to 65%, a significant boost for Hollande who has consistently polled as the least popular president in recent history.
Days after the shootings, Hollande proposed a hard-line response that borrowed heavily from ideas originally put forward by Sarkozy's party, effectively muting the opposition.
Among the proposals were a three-month extension to the state of emergency, more spending on national security, a thaw in relations with Russia and legal reforms that would allow dual nationals to be stripped of French citizenship.
According to Camus, Hollande has impressed the French electorate by taking a “much more presidential tone”.
“After January's Charlie Hebdo killings, Hollande was all compassion,” he said. “This time, Hollande has been all action. This plays well to an electorate that is getting tired of Sarkozy.”
But it is also a boost for the FN, which wants to capitalise on the attacks to push its anti-immigrant and anti-Europe message.