Sure. It takes all sorts. But some of this is dispiriting

Science Po University’s Political Research Centre (CEVIPOF) recently released its 9th annual survey of political attitudes (OpinionWay interviewed 2000 people).

The overarching purpose of the survey is to understand the level of confidence and trust (defined by CEVIPOF as democracy’s cornerstone) in which politicians and political institutions are held. CEVIPOF unearthed what they called a ‘sudden drop in confidence in most political institutions in January 2018 [compared to their January 2017 survey], demonstrating that the 2017 [Presidential/Legislative] Elections did not resolve the questions on how the 5th Republic’s institutions function’. This despite the ‘renewal’ which was thought likely to flow from Emmanuel Macron’s election as President, plus his own République en Marche Party then winning an overall majority in Parliament.

CEVIPOF’s scene is set by their opening question: what word best describes your current state of mind? And for the 8th successive year, ‘weariness’, ‘distrust’ and ‘gloom’ are people’s descriptors of their feelings (c. 25%), ahead (as ever) of ‘calm’, ‘well-being’ and ‘confidence’ (c. 18%). Yet a glimmer of hope is provided by the gap between ‘gloom-mongers’ and those who are ‘zen’ being smaller than at any time over those 8 years.

Democracy? Sort-of Like … but the temptation of a ‘Strong Man’ is ever-present

Asking people brought up in the French 5th Republic their views on the desirability of various political systems (Would governing the country a certain way be: Very Good/Fairly Good/Fairly Bad/Very Bad?) is complicated. France elects a powerful President – one considerably less trammelled by those (essential/irritating) checks and balances affecting the White House incumbent’s freedom of action. The French President’s considerable inherent power is enhanced by Parliamentary Elections being held within weeks of the Presidential Election. This (almost) inevitably avoids the ‘danger’ of a President having to govern without a Parliamentary majority, forcing them to co-exist (cohabitation) with a Parliament led by a Party other than their own.

CEVIPOF invited those questioned to give their views on:

  • ‘a democratic political system’ – 84% think it’s Good (down 7 points from 2017)
  • ‘a strong man as leader who doesn’t have to pay any attention to Parliament or elections’ – a bewildering 42% said that would be Good (down 7 points from 2017) but less than 1 in 4 (23%) considered such Strong Man to be ‘Very Bad’
  • ‘the Army running the country’ – 15% believe that would be Good (only 51% replied that military rule is Very Bad). 6% were Don’t Knows! Incomprehensible

People are (at least) consistent. Less than 4 out of 5 (78%) agree with the statement that ‘Democracy can sometimes be a problem, but even so it’s better than any other form of government’.  That’s the lowest-ever level of support for ‘democracy’ over the 6 years this question’s been asked (down from 85% support last year).

Worryingly – for those who intend to be around for a while – the young show distinctly less ‘support’ for ‘democracy’ than the old:

  • 90% of those aged 65+ agree that democracy is better than the other choices … however, only 65% of 18-24 year olds agree
  • further, as we all know, even the act of voting can be a bit of a pain for the young: 80% of those 65 and over agree that ‘Voting in Elections enables citizens to influence decisions taken in France’, less than half the 18-24’s hold the same view

To cap it all, less than 1 in 3 (31%) disagree with the statement ‘There’s no reason to be proud of our democratic system’.

Is such low esteem for democracy surprising in a country where only 1 in 4 (24% … it was only 18% the year before – at least some straws of hope can be unearthed) agree with the statement ‘Despite what some say, most politicians try to keep their electoral campaign promises’? Is it imaginable that another year of Macron’s Government driving through his programme could lead (at least) to increased belief in politicians’ pledges?

Politics/politicians/political institutions/other organisations? Dislike

Just about every single part of CEVIPOF’s 95-page survey reveals a drop in confidence and trust, by comparison with the previous year.

Those surveyed were asked about confidence in political institutions. There was only one institution where a majority had confidence: the local Council (53% are confident in them – down 11 points from 2017). Regarding both Departmental and Regional Councils, confidence dropped by 13 points to 43% and 41% respectively. For each of these 3 ‘local’ institutions confidence is lower than at any time over the 8 years of surveys.

Confidence in other institutions:

  • the Presidency – 33% (down 1 percentage point)
  • the European Union – 32% (down 6)
  • the Government – 30% (the only institution where confidence has increased – up 1)
  • the Senate [upper House of Parliament] – 29% (down 15)
  • the National Assembly [lower House of Parliament] – 29% (down 15)

Unsurprisingly, the Mayor of the local Council is the only political personality in whom the majority (55%) has confidence. The further you move from the local, the lower the belief in the office-holder. So Departmental and Regional Councillors are endorsed by 40% confidence, the President/Prime Minister/local Deputy [Member of Parliament] have a mere 35% confidence … and Euro-MPs (‘furthest away’ from the voters) bring up the rear with 25% confidence – clearly not helped by several high-profile investigations into fraudulent Euro-MP employment practices from the Front National and the centrist Macron-supporting MoDem Party.

Even ‘organisations’ are less trusted than the previous year:

  • hospitals/small & medium-sized companies/armed services/police – c. 75% confidence (all down 5 – 7 points)
  • school/local & national associations/Social Security – 60%+ confidence
  • the judicial system/Catholic Church/large public and private companies – 40% confidence
  • trade unions/banks/the media – c. 25% confidence
  • political parties – NINE PER CENT confidence. Ouch.

[The biggest losers of confidence over the year were the possibly strange combination of hospitals, armed services and Catholic Church: each lost 7 points]

What the punters LIKE and DISLIKE [Health Warning. It’s not all pretty]

Those polled were invited to comment on a series of statements.

  • The economy currently profits the bosses at the workers’ expense – 70% agree
  • There are too many immigrants in France – 63% agree
  • So social justice can be established, you should take from the rich and give to the poor – 55% agree
  • French nationals should get employment priority over immigrants – 54% agree
  • The number of state employees must be reduced – 48% agree
  • The unemployed could find work if they really wanted to – 46% agree
  • The death penalty should be re-introduced – 45% agree

Where’s that ‘attractive’ Populist Leader? Your public (alas) appears to await you.

Frexit? Almost certainly not … but an underwhelming endorsement of Fremain

Overall, do you think France’s membership of the European Union is

  • a good thing – 45% (up 3 points to 2nd highest support in 8 years)
  • a bad thing – 20% (down 4 points to lowest anti-EU sentiment in 8 years)
  • neither a good thing nor a bad thing – 33%

Is this beginning to demonstrate what can happen, even in euro-somewhat-sceptical France, when a President actually gets behind the EU?

Plus ça change … 

Emmanuel Macron’s breakthrough win as President, followed by his République en Marche Party winning an overwhelming majority of Deputies in Parliament’s lower house (National Assembly) may have signalled France’s wish to ‘give [him] the tools … to finish the job’. This was heralded in some quarters as the end of the left-right political split. Here was a President whose USP  was his identification as ‘neither right nor left’ and of ‘both right and left’. And yet, and yet.

CEVIPOF’s survey shows that – when asked to self-describe their political positioning on a scale of 0 – 10, where 0 is ‘very much to the left’ and 10 is ‘very much to the right’

  • 20% said they were ‘centre’ (ie 5 – Macron’s first round Presidential vote was 24%)
  • 25% ‘left and far left’ (ie 0 – 4, with 6% ‘far left’ – down 3 points from 2017) and
  • 33% ‘right and far right’ (ie 6 – 10, with 7% ‘far right’ – down 6 points from 2017)

But things are never quite what they seem. Folk produce some self-contradictions.

70% of CEVIPOF’s sample agreed with the statement that ‘The notions of left and right no longer mean very much today’ (down 5 points from last year) while 69% had no confidence in either the right or the left governing the country (up 6 points from last year). Both these statements must have had the President’s apparatchiks purring.

Yet 75% agreed with the statement that in a democracy it was important that different political parties put forward clear political alternatives. And a majority agreed that being of the left and the right is not the same thing, with important differences between the parties of the left and the right.

CEVIPOF surmises that these (possibly?) self-contradictory positions can be explained by understanding that voters are dissatisfied with what’s currently on offer from the traditional left and right political parties, although there’s a deep-seated attachment to that decades-old left-right split.

So as to render the whole picture still more confusing CEVIPOF have produced a learned academic note (in French) on ‘The fake death of the left-right split’. There they define in detail the responses to a question as to how people self-identified politically. This separate question gave us:

  • Very much on the left – 4.2%
  • On the left – 18.4%
  • Centre – 10.9%
  • On the right – 18.8%
  • Very much on the right – 6.0%
  • Neither on the left nor the right – 34.4%
  • Both on the left and the right – 4.3%
  • Don’t know – 3.0%

Why no conclusion, therefore, that some half the nation self-identifies as natural ‘centrists’ (adding together the centrists/neither left nor right/both left and right)? Because, says CEVIPOF, those ‘Neither left nor right’ folk actually have little, or no, interest in politics or political institutions. They don’t see themselves as close to any political party. Rather they’re natural abstainers … although those who were bothered to go out probably voted Le Pen in the Presidential 1st round.

France’s first-past-the-post electoral system – even with Macron’s promised element of proportional representation to be added on top – militates against the creation of what CEVIPOF christened a ‘great French coalition’ of centre-left and centre-right.

CEVIPOF concludes that the relative closeness – in the Presidential 1st round – of votes for Macron (centre), Le Pen (far right), Fillon (right) and Mélenchon (far left) shows clearly that, in voters’ minds, the ‘old politics’ of a left/right distinction definitely continues to co-exist alongside the ‘new politics’ of those who talk about societies being either open or closed or being economically/socially conservative or liberal.

St Valentine’s Day Opinion Poll: Massacre … of support for the Executive Couple

Two recent Parliamentary bye-elections – both won by the right-wing Républicain Party in traditional right-wing constituencies (on miserably low turn-outs) – confirmed old voting habits. This week’s Ipsos poll reinforced the bad news for those referred to (how appropriate on St Val’s Day) as Le couple exécutif: the President & Prime Minister. Their fortunes are always linked, at least until the President is doing so badly that the P.M. is terminated with extreme prejudice by a President attempting to restore their fortune.

Ipsos – which has consistently reported lower support for Macron than other pollsters – said the President’s popularity had dropped (after 6 consecutive upward months): down 5 points to 35%. Also, a record 55% had an unfavourable opinion of him.

However, such downward progression in support is (recent) par for the Presidential course. 9 months into their respective mandates, Sarkozy had 39% and Hollande 36% popularity, putting Macron’s 35% into marginally more positive territory. Only Chirac – buoyed up by his then position on Iraq – flew high with a stratospheric 62%.

So who’s not a fan of the President? Lots of people said Ipsos. Especially those in precarious economic groups:

  • those with an educational level below the Bac: 27% support (down 11 points)
  • households with the lowest monthly income: 20% support (down 10 points)
  • retired people: 40% (down 10 points)

Prime Minister Philippe’s support also dropped … to 34% (down 1 point) – a healthy (for him) point below that of support for the President. Never good to find yourself more popular than your patron.

As for those right-wing Républicain supporters, they still feel more than just a nostalgic glow of warmth for their very own Golden Oldies. Ipsos says that Républicain voters N° 1 favourite politician remains Survivor Sarkozy (78% favourable), while 2nd equal is The Man Still Awaiting News From The Judges … to wit, erstwhile hapless Presidential candidate Fillon (60% favourable). The Devil You Know is still seemingly preferred to the Unknown One: Républicains’ freshly-anointed leader, Wauquiez remains in a lowly 5th position, with but half (52%) Républicains feeling favourable towards him. But they’re surely warming to his favourite mantra: la France … a besoin que la droite soit vraiment de droite (‘France needs its right-wing party to be really right wing’) [I would wager that Wauquiez believes he’s The Populist Leader whose ‘arrival’ is awaited and whose Hour is A-Coming.]



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