National Front vote key in French poll

May 5, 1995

Lionel Jospin may have carried the first ballot but Jacques Chirac remains the firm favourite in Sunday's French presidential election.

So says Robert Elgie, lecturer in the department of European studies at Loughborough University and editor of a forthcoming book on the election. "Anyone who says they weren't surprised by Jospin winning the first ballot is lying. Even the private polls were showing Chirac ahead. I suspect Jospin himself was surprised and the Chirac camp were devastated," he says.

Victory in the first ballot has changed perceptions of Jospin, initially drafted by the Socialists as a damage-limitation exercise. But he will have to make as much progress again on the second ballot to beat Chirac.

The first opinion poll after the initial ballot showed Chirac leading by 55 to 45. After getting their findings as spectacularly wrong as their British counterparts in 1992, the pollsters face some sort of credibility crisis, but Dr Elgie believes that finding probably reflects the rough left-right balance. Much could depend on voter responses to last Tuesday's televised debate.

Two groups - first-round National Front voters and those still undecided, may hold the key.

Dr Elgie says: "As well as a right-wing hard core, the National Front vote also contains a large element of the disaffected and confused, many of them working-class voters who may still turn more naturally to a Socialist than to Chirac. And the first poll showed 7 per cent of voters still undecided and 13 per cent who might change their minds. Twenty per cent is a lot of potential volatility at this stage."

Dr Elgie still does not think it will happen, but has no doubts about one of the first actions Jospin would take as president: "With only about 70 socialists out of 576 in the National Assembly he would have to call elections".

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