French voters head to the polls today for the first round of their municipal elections. Every city and town in France votes for its mayor on the same day. The vote is being watched for signs of a backlash against the ruling Parti Socialiste and to see if the far-right Front National lives up to the impossible expectations conjured up by the mass media.
A public opinion poll released this month by TNS-Sofres gives a pretty good idea of the voters’ mood. President François Hollande has a 17% approval rating. His Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault is at 16%.
If years passed were any indication, the PS could expect a shellacking today like the Democrats took in 2010. However, this year doesn't have a precedent.
Hollande’s rival, Jean-François Copé, who leads the UMP also has a 17% approval rating. The PS and the UMP, the two largest political parties representing the center-left and center-right are also equally detested by the public, according to the latest from TNS-Sofres.
In years passed, the far left and far right could have expected to benefit from the unpopular center politicians. Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the Parti de Gauche has a 21% approval rating and Marine Le Pen of the Front National has a 27% approval. That’s not enough of a coat tail to give the FN an edge. It has the highest unfavorable rating (65%) of all the parties. Striving to get itself listed in as many municipal elections as possible, it had to scrape the bottom of the barrel to find candidates to fill the slate.
In the municipal elections, the French show their quirkiness. Municipalities across the map are governed by 23 different political parties. Although the parties are allowed to pool their efforts and run like-thinking candidates on combined slates, it just doesn't work out that way. By splintering the vote on the left and the right, run-off second round elections become inevitable. Those are scheduled for next Sunday, March 30. The votes gathered by the smaller splinter parties are used as leverage in the run-off. They only deliver their votes to the candidate in the run-off who agrees to advance their agenda when they take office.
The biggest race is, of course, in Paris. This year a woman will be elected mayor for the first time. The PS candidate, Anne Hidalgo, will have no trouble beating the UMP candidate, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, known as NKM. No one can even be bothered pronouncing her name, or typing it, either. NKM was hand-picked by Nicolas Sarkozy who was planning a come-back until he crashed and burned in a half-dozen scandals that erupted all at once. NKM never got passed the one issue that was debated endlessly: whether or not she could be considered “une bobo,” (bourgeois-bohème). It would have improved her image, if she was. The high point of her campaign was this picture of a smoggy Paris, taken a week ago, because, you know, air pollution is caused by Socialists.