French President Nicolas Sarkozy pulled ahead of Socialist Francois Hollande in a poll tracking intentions for the first round of next month’s elections following a spree of terrorist murders that underscored his role as a crisis fighter.
The campaign resumed today after it was suspended in the wake of a March 19 shooting that killed four people, including three children, at a Jewish school in Toulouse. The self- proclaimed assassin, who also shot dead three people last week, has been holed up in his apartment since 3 a.m. yesterday.
“Sarkozy is in command,” Jerome Sainte-Marie, who heads Paris-based CSA’s public-opinion department, said in an interview. “In this role, he is the most credible. He can show authority and maybe regain some of his past image.”
The CSA poll showed Sarkozy would get 30 percent of the votes in the April 22 first round, up two points, while Hollande would garner 28 percent, down two points. Hollande maintained his lead for the May 6 runoff with 54 percent against 46 percent, identical to the March 12 poll. CSA’s survey was conducted for RMC radio and BFM television and 20 minutes free daily after the March 19 attack.
With the shooter who killed three children and a teacher outside a Jewish school and three soldiers of Arab descent, having been found, Sarkozy’s role as France’s leader in a national emergency may bolster him just a month before the first round of the presidential election, especially if security jumps up the list of voter concerns.
Mohammed Merah, a 23-year-old Frenchman of Algerian descent, took responsibility for the attacks, a move that would make him the first homegrown terrorist to commit violent acts on French soil.
The killings in Toulouse and Montauban by someone like Merah, who was born in the country, is “unheard of, unseen before in France,” said Sainte-Marie. “So we have no benchmark to understand the repercussions.”
The man, who has spent his youth in and out of legal trouble before adopting radical Islam and traveling to Afghanistan, claimed to have been conducting the killings on the order of al-Qaeda.
“It is impossible for now to make any judgment on the impact of this crisis on the outcome of the election,” Saint- Maire said.
The CSA poll, in which 888 registered voters were questioned, followed an Ifop survey last week showed Sarkozy gaining momentum. While Sarkozy trails in all voter surveys ahead of the likely runoff against Hollande, he has narrowed the lead. An Ipsos SA poll on voting intentions this week showed he has narrowed his deficit against Hollande to 1 percentage point in the first round from 3.5 in a March 3 poll.
For the second round, Hollande’s lead narrowed to 55 percent against 44 for Sarkozy, compared with a 16-point lead in the previous poll.
Sarkozy leads on security issues. An Ifop poll showed that the French rate him better than Hollande on security by a 58- to-39 percent margin. The survey for Le Monde involved 4,728 people questioned from Feb. 16 to 21.
“For Hollande, this crisis brings the campaign to a point where he is not seen as the most credible,” Sainte-Marie said. “If the terror crisis wanes, which we cannot predict, Hollande will have to work hard to put the race back on track to where he is more at ease, like on the economy.”
After the killing at the Jewish school yard, presidential candidates declared a 48-hour campaign halt. Six of the 10, including Sarkozy, attended a memorial ceremony yesterday in the town of Montauban for the murdered paratroopers.
Security hasn’t been a major issue in the election so far, with just 15 percent of voters saying it will weigh on their choice, behind the economic crisis at 50 percent, unemployment at 46 percent and government debt at 32 percent, according to Ifop pollster.
Sarkozy first came to national attention as mayor of Neuilly, a town near Paris, when in a 1993 kindergarten hostage drama he talked a dynamite-belted, ransom-demanding gunman into releasing a child, with television footage showing the mayor leaving the classroom with the youngster in his arms. After 46 hours of talks, the gunman was killed by police sharpshooters and the seven remaining hostages were freed unharmed.