It is true that Nicolas Sarkozy is one point behind François Hollande. It is also true that Marine Le Pen and both extreme left and right-wing supporters have almost never received such a high level of support. Last, it is also true that there is no way that Le Pen or Bayrou will ask their supporters to support one of the two finalists (Sarkozy and Hollande).
However, there still is a chance for the current president to win the election on May 6th. This can be done in two tough but possible ways.
1. Focusing on the centrist-voters.
The first way to win votes is to focus on the 9% of the voters who turned to François Bayrou and are likely not to vote again on May, 6th. I see three ways Sarkozy can convince the voters to support him. The most obvious way is to talk about Europe: the way Sarkozy has helped Merkel to save the Eurozone and his efforts to make Europe the center of his policies. This is hard to reconcile with his anti-Schengen strategy but if properly explained can be quite effective.
The second and more classical way is to focus on the social issues by saying ‘la France forte oui mais aussi la France sociale’ (a strong France, his motto, but also a social France). Such a strategy might be less effective but remains easier to explain, especially if Hollande still doesn’t want to debate more than once.
The third way consists of reminding Hollande’s electorate how far away from their financial values Bayrou is. By creating subsidies, new public jobs and other state-funded agencies, there is no way Bayrou will fight public debt. This might raise abstention but can prevent some of Sarkozy’s supporters to vote for Bayrou.
2. Focusing on the extreme right-voters.
The right-wing political adviser for Sarkozy, Patrick Buisson’s strategic plan was to prevent the success of the National Front in 2012. If he succeeded in 2007, he failed this year, partly because of the left-wing anti-Sarkozy propaganda leading people to vote for extreme political options. However, rather surprisingly, this strategy strengthened Sarkozy’s traditional electorate.
The issue now is to win the right-wing voters, knowing that no public decision will be taken by Marine LePen. Continuing to focus on the Schengen theme is the less terrible decision. Indeed, if the Buy European Act, promoted by Sarkozy, should be a powerful argument, it sounds too technical and impossible to implement in France.
The other argument – but I cannot imagine how it could be used – would be to promote protectionism. Though if we do not need a left-wing policy, we certainly do not need protectionism.
Game Changer: The Youth Vote
Young people are usually rather left-wing in France and were predicted to vote massively for François Hollande. Indeed, a few weeks before the first vote, polls showed he was expected to get at least 50% of these votes.
However, by the time the vote arrived, Hollande’s anti-Sarkozy campaign did not manage to raise enthusiasm for his cause and this percentage fell to 30%, still higher than Sarkozy but not that far above Segolene Royal’s total in 2007. Youth are not supporting the left as much as expected, thus this might be a way for Sarkozy to win easy votes by bringing young people to vote.
Being an Extreme Centrist?
Both of these strategies are contradictory and both cannot be led by the same man. Yet, everyone waits on Jean-Louis Borloo, former Environment Minister who encouraged Sarkozy lately to deal with the first part. Hollande has rejected the idea of having three debates immediately but will he be possible to stand still on this point. Unfortunately, I’m tempted to say yes: French people are fed up with politics and are not eager to see them debating.