The second round vote campaign has not been disappointing, and unusually rich in "péripéties".
As the interested reader might remember, we had left the hero of the first round, François Bayrou, courted by all sides. Well, he seems to have gone for the charms of Ségolène but it seems that his voters are not. Polls have been stubborn: Sarkozy has kept a 4 to 8 points lead for the past two weeks, even after the presidential debate of Wednesday. In fact, as I thought it would be the case, the debate seems to have helped Sarkozy even if he did not win outright.
I missed the first 2/3 of the debate. But the last third was enough for me: Segolene Royal came across as the school marm that would be berating France for the next 5 years whereas Sarkozy came much softer than what the Socialist attacks wanted us to believe he is. If Segolene could show that she could hold her own on a debate of such importance, Nicolas was definitely the guy you wanted to go out for "un verre au bistro" after the said debate. And that was all that Sarkozy needed. Royal needed more.
The debate was in fact good (I watched part of the earlier part in a rebroadcast). It lasted over two hours and contrary to stuffy US presidential debates, the two candidates were allowed to talk to each other, to actually attack (with all polite forms respected) each other. It was quite refreshing to see them expose themselves to such a democratic exercise, something that is not seen in the US except in early primary rounds, and that is never seen in Venezuela (and unthinkable with Chavez!).
The issues were the same, Royal more principled, Sarkozy more innovative. But where Royal sort of lost the debate, and me, was on a certain dogmatism from her part. Sarkozy came surprising as more statesman than Royal (gender considerations taken, of course). Royal would do a great Prime Minister but Sarkozy showed more presidential timber (though not much, I am still weary of his adventurer side).
In my case it was not necessary Royal faults that made me decide for Sarkozy, but Chavez. Poor Ségolène started using words such as changing institutions, a 6th Republic, participatory democracy and that was the end. That she used that in a presidential debate instead of campaign trail fodder showed that she believed too much this crap and I have seen the result of this crap in Venezuela. Oh, yes, France political culture is way more sophisticated than Venezuela and institutions infinitely sturdier, but such words these days give me eczema. Eventually it came down to this: the only reason I was still thinking about voting for Royal was to have a French female president. Call it sexism in reverse if you please. Thus when characters are considered and proposal feasibility assessed, the choice for me became Sarkozy. Just as I had expected for weeks: the debate for me would be the deciding point. There is a difference however: whichever of the two candidates win I will be OK.
And the prospects? I am not too confident of polls anyway.
Bayrou has all but called his people to vote for Royal. His sneaky maneuvering and his carelessly advanced pseudo indecision might have hurt him a lot! I do not know what his followers will end up doing anyway, even if they decide to vote. And Le Pen call for a "massive abstention" is his sloppy way to be present at the second round vote by dropping on his own participation by at least 10 points. I think both were wrong in their strategy and both will get out diminished. If Sarkozy wins, Bayrou people would have gone to the right above their leader head, a very bad way to start a new political party.... If 80% of French vote then Le Pen would have failed even more and Sarkozy would be a shoo in.
But if participation drops below 80% all bets are off and no matter what the polls say Royal could win with the narrowest of margins, just to lose the legislative vote a month after and become Bayrou hostage for 5 years. The behaviour of the Bayrou voters is just too unpredictable and they will really decide the election. Their effect will be felt more if many Le Pen and Bayrou voters abstain.
At any rate, it seems that Sarkozy should win. I think he will beat Royal by 6 points, 53 to 47. That is an excellent result in France.