France to the Polls

Cross-posted from PoliBlog:

Via the NYT: In French Vote for President, the Political Is Existential

With 12 candidates running in the first round of the presidential election on Sunday, the choices made by two men drinking espresso in a cafe here seemed to sum up the dilemma for many French people: whether to vote with the heart or the head.Hakim Bensalem, 30, a telecom technician who lives in Noisy-Le-Sec, a Paris suburb, said he would not give up his “right to express my ideas” and would support Olivier Besancenot, a far-left candidate who hovers around 4 percent in recent polls.

He said he was not concerned that his vote for Mr. Besancenot might erode the standing of Ségolène Royal, the main candidate on the left, whom he would be ready to vote for in the runoff on May 6.

“If she doesn’t make it, she doesn’t make it,” Mr. Bensalem said, “I’ll chalk it up to destiny, and we’ll have to deal with the right.”

But his friend Mickael Gomis, 30, who also lives in Noisy-Le-Sec and is in the same line of work as Mr. Bensalem, said he would vote for Ms. Royal on Sunday. “I’m going to vote for the biggest force of opposition possible,” he said. “The others, they are too small.”

It will be most interesting to see which of the two views dominates voting today:

The latest polls suggest that the head might be winning over the heart. The daily IPSOS tracking survey on Friday found that 85 percent of voters planned to support one of the four leading candidates, while in the first-round election of 2002 the top four candidates only received 60 percent of the vote.

There are numerous issues on the table, not the least of which are the French economy and the integration of immigrants into French society.

In terms of voters and the first round, a major issue is Jean-Marie Le Pen:

Weighing heavily on the minds of many voters are memories of the election of 2002, when the far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen edged past the Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin in the first round, depriving Mr. Jospin, the prime minister at the time, of a place in the runoff and ensuring an overwhelming victory by the incumbent, Jacques Chirac.

Mr. Le Pen has come in fourth in opinion polls this year, and on Thursday Le Monde, the left-leaning newspaper, urged its readers to avoid a repeat of 2002 by choosing either Ms. Royal or the leading conservative candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy.

The AP notes that
turnout is expected to be high

Turnout among the nation’s 44.5 million potential voters reached 31.2 percent by noon (6 a.m. EDT), four hours into the voting, the Interior Ministry said, the highest level by that hour than in any of the four previous presidential elections.

“The participation rate is about 30 percent more than five years ago,” said Romain Pinault, an election official at a school, where a second voting station was added to handle the extra voters in Paris’ posh 8th district.

There were 3.3 million newly registered voters, many from rundown immigrant neighborhoods wracked by rioting in 2005.

The BBC’s version of the story is here: Europe | Decision time in French election.

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter