Traditionally, French pollsters only ask questions about the first round of a presidential contest this far from the election (scheduled in May 2012). However, a CSA poll published today tested second round vote intentions with 6 possible candidates tested against president Sarkozy:
Sarkozy 57 Hollande 43
Sarkozy 55 Royal 45
Sarkozy 53 Aubry 47
Sarkozy 53 Delanoe 47
Sarkozy 51 Bayrou 49
Sarkozy 49 Strauss-Kahn 51
- Usual (but bad) numbers for "traditional" socialist candidates (53/47 was the margin at the last election) ;
- Confirmation that Bayrou would be a stronger second round candidate, but he still faces a very difficult challenge to be in the top two (recent polls put him around 13-15%, compared to 18.5% in 2007);
- And of course, the confirmation that Strauss-Kahn (Managing director of the IMF since September 2007) is more than ever profiting from his position of exile and apparent neutrality: never intervening in the French internal political debate, his position at the IMF gives him credibility on the economy and foreign affairs.
However Strauss-Kahn 2012 is still far from a sure thing:
- He has solemnly committed to serve his full 5 years term as IMF chairman (it was a sine qua non condition for several countries, including the US) and other countries would be furious if he reneged on the pledge;
- He would need to win the socialist nomination first. It is now relatively clear that an open primary (Italian-style) will be organized at some point, possibly as early as summer 2011. In the primary, Strauss-Kahn would have to rely mostly on non-party members as he is not very popular among members (as demonstrated in the members-only 2006 primary).
- He would need a flow of good polls like this one to make his case. The main problem being that all other socialist candidates would be on the ground as early as next year preparing their campaigns while he would have to maintain an apparent indifference to the process to appease IMF Board members as long as possible.
- If he won, he would have to intervene again in the national debate and be more controversial, losing a part of his current outsider appeal. During summer and fall 2006, Royal had very good polls (often showing her beating Sarkozy), as long as she didn't say much and concentrated on photo-ops (including the infamous bikini one). As soon as the ideas debate started she lost ground and never recovered.
- Of course, some questions about his personal lifestyle could re-emerge during the campaign, with unpredictable results.
My conclusion is that for now, DSK is in a Delors 1994 position: seen as the exiled possible savior of a French left in disarray. Delors chose not to run for the presidency in December 1994, despite huge pressure from a united party calling him. With so many candidates and factions already fighting for the nomination, I tend to think DSK will also avoid a possible humiliation (resigning from the IMF only to lose either in the primary or the election).
All in all, Sarkozy could be in a much worse situation at the mid-term point, especially in the context of the recession (also, in 2007, CSA was always the pollster with the worst shares for Sarkozy, and was proven wrong) . However, the result of his gamble to send DSK, seen as the most dangerous candidate for 2012, to Washington to neutralize him has not yet paid off.