France: Heated presidential debate between frontrunner Hollande and President Sarkozy seen as unlikely to sway votes

Updated On: May 03, 2012

With the French elections coming up this Sunday, yesterday’s televised presidential debate between President Nicolas Sarkozy and frontrunner Socialist Francois Hollande turned bitter and brutal. However, analysts say that research on polls from previous years show that the presidential debate influence’s on the outcome of results on election day has largely been insignificant.

Surveys conducted by various poll agencies show Mr. Hollande in the lead with an average of 53.5% and Mr. Sarkozy with an average of 46.5% prior to the debate. The debate was considered to be Mr. Sarkozy’s last chance to gather support before the elections on Sunday. Despite this, the debate amounted to little more than an exchange of rancid comments between the two candidates, with Mr. Sarkozy aggressively and repeatedly calling Mr. Hollande out on his arrogance and lies.

According to political analysts, the fact that Mr. Hollande withstood Mr. Sarkozy’s sharp attacks throughout the session shows that Mr. Sarkozy is unlikely to have gained much ground. Most concede that there is no clear winner from the debate. Of note was the style of both candidates, with Mr. Sarkozy taking an offensive stance as compared to Mr. Hollande, who was more calm and laid-back. Mr. Hollande has said that he believes that the debate will not bring out new voters.

One of the arguments that featured prominently was France’s low economic growth and high unemployment, which Mr. Hollande felt was due to Mr. Sarkozy’s weak policies. He also criticized Mr. Sarkozy’s tax reforms, saying that they favored the rich. Mr. Sarkozy, however, disagreed, saying he was unfairly blamed for France’s economic problems , and that he wants “fewer poor” as compared to Mr. Hollande who wants “fewer rich”.

Mr. Sarkozy proceeded to attack Mr. Hollande on his vague economic policies and his backing of government-funded stimulus programs, which he felt would only serve to increase France’s debt and hurt the rest of Europe.  Mr. Sarkozy himself is a supporter of cutting spending in order to curb the state’s rising debt. Other key points include the issue of immigrants, which Mr. Sarkozy wishes to limit, as well as special treatment for Muslims, which both candidates agree should not be allowed.

Greece elections will also be taking place this Sunday, although polls show that there is currently no clear majority winner. Many believe that Greece’s political system has to change to one that is more accountable and less corrupt for it to emerge from its turmoil. Both elections will prove critical for the EU as it seeks to rise out of the debt crisis.

Report: France approaches the end of a presidential campaign with a bitter debate [New York Times, 2 May 2012]

Report: Hollande stands firm in French presidential debate [AP, 3 May 2012]

Report: France presidential election: Who won TV debate? [BBC, 3 May 2012]

Report: Greece election: Wind of change sweeps through Athens [BBC, 1 May 2012]

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