Reflection on the French Presidential Election: “Change” the graveyard of incumbents

I have been meaning to comment on the French presidential elections for some time. I missed my chance during the first round realized on 22 April 2012 so will seize the opportunity before the second round which will happen on this Sunday, 6 May. The  first round was high drama and pitted the incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy against the Socialist candidate Francois Hollande, National Front candidate Marine Le Pen and seven other challengers.  With no one candidate winning a majority, the election was pushed to a run-off between the top two vote getters: Sarkozy and Hollande.

For the most part, Hollande looks to have a clear advantage, leading Sarkoszy by a comfortable 5 to 9 point margin depending on the public opinion polls (see link Ipsos polling) . So what might explain Hollande’s probable victory over Sarkozy on election-day this weekend?

The arguments vary as to why Sarkozy’s demise is imminent. Some make the point that he is abrasive and lacks a common touch; others argue that his right-leaning economic policies have undermined his credibility with a largely left-leaning electorate.  Still others make the case that the economic crisis in Europe is a no man’s land for any office holder seeking reelection.

I fall much more into the last camp that attributes the Holland victory to a dismal economic scenario.  From an analytical perspective, the 2012 French presidential elections can be classified as a fairly strong “change election” by our electoral model (link).  We forecast Sarkozy’s chances of winning at 36%.

It is worth reiterating that change elections favor the opposition because voters are pessimistic about the future and want to “throw the bums out”.  Relative optimism (or pessimism) is a function of many factors including economic conditions. When the economy is revving along, voters are apt to go with the government candidate. When the economy is in the toilet voters take their anger out on the government by voting for opposition candidates.  Today, France — like the rest of Europe — is swimming in a sea of economic-induced sorrows (see graph below). Voters want change and change is the graveyard of incumbents.

Source: Ipsos Global @visor