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France Election 2012: Analysis From Le Huffington Post

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French presidential candidate Francois Hollande arrives at Brive airport after the first round of voting, Sunday, April 22, 2012, in Brive, France. (AP Photo/Bob Edme)
French presidential candidate Francois Hollande arrives at Brive airport after the first round of voting, Sunday, April 22, 2012, in Brive, France. (AP Photo/Bob Edme)

The polls have spoken, and to no surprise, François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy will be battling in the second round of France's presidential election. Winning 28.63 percent of votes, the Socialist candidate, Hollande, and the incumbent president Sarkozy, who won 27.08 percent of votes, landed well ahead in the first round elections, which had a lower abstention rate than many had feared.

Though the top two candidates were predicted by many, the finale at Elysée in 2012 remains up in the air.

President Sarkozy lost not only the first round to his Socialist challenger, but suffered flagging popularity as well, winning fewer points than in his first-round showing in 2007. And by coming in second, Sarkozy lost his bid for the top spot on the ballot.

The campaign strategy of Sarkozy's UMP -- to gain momentum for the second round by adding votes from the right and far-right on April 22 -- failed, as evidenced by the surprising results secured by Marine Le Pen. Nearly 20 percent of ballots went for the far-right Le Pen. And with second rounds always difficult to predict, the head-to-head campaign now looks decidedly more complicated for the French President.

On the other side, François Hollande can savor his April 22, having finished at the top of the podium thanks to a Socialist campaign built on popular sentiment and a targeted electorate.

Aside from campaigns by François Mitterrand in 1974 and 1988, Hollande's is the best showing by a Socialist candidate in the first round of any French presidential election. Hollande also becomes the third man from the left to rank at the top after the first round, joining Mitterrand in 1988 and Lionel Jospin in 1995.

Hollande, the representative of Corrèze, is now favored more than ever to win the second round on May 6, but will have to rally voters from the left and emphasize that the election is not won. An exclusive poll conducted by ViaVoice for Le Huffington Post showed 64 percent of Socialist supporters believe that the announcement of Hollande's victory was overstated and fear that the message could have a negative effect.

Marine Le Pen Smashes Far-Right Record

The biggest revelation in Sunday's results came for Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate who earned close to 20 percent of votes, shattering the record set by her father for the same party in 2002 when he earned 16.8 percent of votes.

Le Pen’s rise in popularity comes at the expense of the Front Left candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who secured less than 12 percent of the vote. Mélenchon's score also fell well below where early polls had given hope. Only a detailed analysis of the results will tell if Mélenchon was a victim of strategic voting or if he was just over-valued in previous polls.

Despite the disappointment, the Front Left Mélenchon can claim to have injected spirit into the Communist Party and France's left-of-the-left, receiving praise across the political spectrum for his campaign. Not since 1981, when Georges Marchais earned 15.35 percent of the vote, has a Front Left candidate gotten a comparable result in the first round of a presidential election.

François Bayrou, Key To The Second Round

The atmosphere was obviously much bleaker on the side of "rue de l’Université." Earning less than 10 percent of the votes cast, François Bayrou finished in fifth place in his third presidential campaign, far from the 18.6 percent he won in 2007. The Modem candidate was unable to insert a third voice into the dialogue.

Although the representative of Béarn will not participate in the head-to-head battle, his constituents, if they mobilize en masse, could still swing May 6's runoff. Bayrou, who announced that he would declare support for another candidate if he did not get into the runoff, will be courted for his own votes.

But will that electorate follow his word?

ViaVoice Survey conducted for The Huffington Post.
Interviews conducted by telephone Thursday the 19th and Friday the 20th of April, 2012. Sample of 1,005 persons, representative of the French population aged 18 and over. Representation by the quota method applied to the following criteria: sex, age, profession of the household representative, after stratification by region and urban category.

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