I’m in France for the first time in 2 1/2 years. I’ve spoken to many people in the past week who have tried to convince me that I’m underestimating the NUPES, the new party created by Jean-Luc Mélenchon. I had been predicting that the NUPES would win a maximum of 100 seats; my informants set 100 as a minimum and see 150 now as a real possibility–a total high enough, if achieved, to allow the new party to play a potential blocking role. This would amount to a real upheaval in the French political system.
Will it actually happen? It has to be conceded that Mélenchon’s tactical acumen has been excellent. By overplaying his hand, he has succeeded in strengthening it. What strikes me is how many of the people I’ve spoken to preface their remarks by saying “I can’t stand Mélenchon, but …” It seems that his boldfaced bluff has created a real dynamic: people believe that a new movement is afoot, and their belief turns an inchoate wish into a veritable movement.
On the other hand, turnout is predicted to be very low, under 50 percent. Mélenchon’s vote is strongest among younger voters, who also are more likely to abstain from voting. So there is a double dynamic at work, and we won’t know which tendency is stronger until the votes are in.
Other unprecedented things are happening. Diplomats have gone on strike, for example. This is truly novel and reflects a belief that Macron, often seen from the outside as the quintessential embodiment of the French administrative elite, has embarked on a crusade to dismantle it from within, first by reconstituting the ENA under a new name, and later by outsourcing some (much?) of the work of the French administration to consulting firms like McKinsey. One informant described the goal as “la consultification” of France. In this respect, Nicolas Mathieu’s novel Connemara, which I wrote about here a while ago, seems prophetic.
Meanwhile, it’s good to be back in Paris, where life seems almost normal. Although the mask mandate in public transport was lifted only a few days ago, few people are wearing masks. Cafés and restaurants are full, tourists have returned, and there are long lines at movie theaters. The new traffic patterns in the streets have encouraged many people to take their bicycles–la vélorution as it has been wittily dubbed–which forces the pedestrian to remain on the alert at all times: crosswalks have become lethal. But an ecologist I spoke too gives Anne Hidalgo high marks both for discouraging automobile traffic and starting work on an “urban forest,” which, it is hoped, will transform the city’s ecology. Her electoral failure, my informant says, was due to a poorly conceived campaign, focused on “regalian” rather than ecological issues. Perhaps. Others I’ve spoken to think that her efforts in Paris alienated many voters. In any case, the city seems a bit calmer than usual, because many people are still working from home and may well continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
I am very doubtful of any seat number prediction for parliamentary elections as they really are 577 local elections and thus polling nationally is only relevant to predicting national percentages and I suspect that a lot of pollsters would privately agree with me: you can make 27% of the predicted voting nationally and end up with hugely different seat numbers depending for instance on whether your voting numbers are evenly distributed in the country or not. Furthermore the dynamics leading from first round parliamentary voting to second round voting are notoriously difficult to appreciate. Presidential elections are much easier to handicap as the guys at 538 would say.
With this cautionary note out of the way, the important point emerging from polling is that la NUPES is polling essentially even with Macron’s new party ENSEMBLES. This in itself indicates incredible strength for la NUPES because one would expect the party of a just reelected President to poll significantly better than other parties (it was the case in previous elections including of course 2017). Typically, Le Pen’s party is polling significantly lower than ENSEMBLE and Le Pen was a second round candidate, whereas Melenchon’s new united left alliance, la NUPES, is polling even. What would the numbers be if so many people did not dislike Melenchon!
I personally think that those disliking Melenchon so much are totally missing the point. Likely they don’t remember the man with whom F. Mitterrand signed a programmatic union of the left. That man was G. Marchais and was the boss of the French communist party and was reviled at the time to the point where he was accused of having volunteered for forced labour (STO) during WWII, an accusation which brought him to tears in private. The reality of course was that this supposedly unpolitical young chap volunteered for STO at the heart of the nazi aviation war industry and, the moment the war ended, was a member of the personal protection team of the then leader of the CP, M. Thorez. He was trained in reality right before the war by Comintern people working out of Belgium, something he could obviously not mention. And Mitterrand was actually made aware of these facts in the early seventies. So Melenchon’s horribly criminal inclination towards South America (it likely derives from his family’s Spanish roots, not from being a Cuban clandestine operative) doesn’t look so terrible seen in this light: he has yet to kill someone, you know.