On Sunday the first vote of the French presidential election was held and it selected the candidates to go on to the final round of voting, scheduled for May 6. In order to have consensus from a majority of the electorate only two candidates can proceed to the run-off vote. François Hollande, candidate for the Socialist and Left Radical Parties, emerged on top, followed closely by Nicolas Sarkozy, candidate for the Union for a Popular Movement and the incumbent president. Though Hollande won, and has consistently polled higher than his rival, Sarkozy still has a very good chance of turning the election around in his favour.
Leading up to April 22, Hollande led the top opinion polls, such as Harris and Ipsos, by 1% to 5%. Few polls put both he and Sarkozy at even odds, and even fewer had Sarkozy ahead. Hollande emerged as the face of the left-leaning anti-Sarkozy movement in France, after the first choice, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, turned out to be too amorous for the roll. Socialists in France have sought to take advantage of the presidents dwindling support to institute economic changes, in particular overturn austerity, and increase government spending to boost employment. They were, of course, pleased when Hollande won the vote with 28.63% over Sarkozy, with 27.18% of the vote.
This win for the Socialists though, is not a slam dunk. The difference is only 1.45% points, and Sarkozy still has a very good chance to close that gap. The way he can do it is by securing the support of the far right.
This is possible for Sarkozy. Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Front, also stood for election and came in third place, with 17.9%. The National Front is staunchly nationalist, and seeks limits on immigration, liberation from the euro, and general isolationism. They are also very concerned about perceived Islamization in the population and the security concerns that stem from that, and wish they also wish to strengthen traditional French culture. Their significant placement in the vote puts Le Pen in a position to be a king maker.
If Sarkozy can secure the support of Le Pen and her backers he can win the election. Only a couple of days into the final stretch he has already reached out to them. He has made it very clear that the supporters of the Front National should be heard. His track record as president is compatible with their strong cultural reactionary views and nationalism. Sarkozy lead the charge against burkhas and banned their use last year. He has also taken a strong stance against terrorism.
Hollande is of course also seeking to sway them to his side, hoping to appeal to anti-Sarkozy sentiments among some of its members. He is at a disadvantage though. It is hard for a left wing candidate to appeal to far right voters. His leading campaign message has been that of economic reform, and not of nationalist issues. He has dominated the economic message, and if he wins it will be because of that.
One of France's most well-known far left leaders, Jean-Luc Melenchond, and default supporter of Hollande, has warned about the Socialists being led away from the core message on economy, and taken into a debate on other issues. Sarkozy most likely knows that he can win a debate on nationalism and security. If he wins it will be because he succeeded at making those the dominant issues of the election.
It should be noted that as it stands today, Hollande has taken off in opinion polls. OpinionWay has put him at 8 points ahead of Sarkozy. However, there is still another week and half of campaigning, and the only poll that counts, is the one held on May 6.