Could they be following 2002 and under-estimating Le Pen?
Five years ago France saw one of the biggest polling disasters ever in a western democracy when without exception all the firms surveying opinion ahead of the presidential election failed to pick up the support that the National Front’s Jean-Marie Le Pen was getting.
This proved to be central because of the way the French election system works. At the first stage there is no limit on the number of candidates who can stand and this attracts a plethora of interests who all want to make a point. The big issue is which two will top the poll because only them go to the second round of voting a fortnight later.
In such a context the polls play a role that’s far more critical than anything we experience in the UK. For in 2002 many on the French left felt it safe to abstain at the first round or to support one of the other candidates than the Socialist, Jospin, because all the surveys were showing that he was in no danger from Le Pen.
We all know what happened then. Le Pen got the second place by a small margin and it was the ultra-right leader who was up against Jacques Chirac in the run-off.
The final week polls recorded an average share of 18.0% for Jospin, and 12.7% to Le Penâ€”an average of 5.3 points in favour of the socialist. In fact every poll put Jospin ahead of Le Pen by at least 4 points.
This time it’s much more complicated with three candidates – Sarkorzy, Royal and Bayrou – all polling in the 20s and any one of them could go down at the first stage. Le Pen is well behind.
But what would happen if once again the French pollsters are under-recording support for Le Pen? Which of the three leading candidates could be the loser?
I don’t think that this time Le Pen has any chance of making the final two but he is more likely to take votes from Sarkorzy who might be more vulnerable than his 0.82/1 betting price suggests.