Sarkozy Gets Little Boost From Handling of Toulouse Killings

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy
Nicolas Sarkozy France's President, speaks on March 19, at the presidential Elysee Palace in Paris. Photographer: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who scored high marks in surveys for his handling of the Toulouse-area shootings this month, has failed to translate them into decisive support as elections approach.

Socialist challenger Francois Hollande, whose lead narrowed in the past week, would still beat Sarkozy by 54 percent to 46 percent in the run-off May 6, three separate polls yesterday and one today showed. Three of the polls showed the gap narrowing from 56 percent to 44 percent two weeks ago.

The polls were the first after police on March 22 killed Mohamed Merah a self-declared jihadist who murdered three paratroopers, and slayed three children and a French-Israeli teacher at a Jewish school in a nine-day shooting spree. Although the French were gripped by the live coverage of Merah’s 32-hour siege before he was brought down in a shootout, the polls show that their main focus when it comes to voting remains on jobs and salaries.

“There’s that old electoral expression ‘It’s the economy, stupid,’ and in the current crisis the economic situation trumps everything else,” William Keylor, a professor of modern French history at Boston University, said in a phone interview. “It was an isolated event, and the public is not going to make a big switch in their intentions.”

The Labor Ministry said March 26 that the number of French jobseekers rose in February for the 10th month to 2.87 million, a 12-year high. The unemployment rate is near 9.8 percent.

No Insecurity

A BVA poll yesterday showed that only 8 percent of the electorate listed ’’security’’ as a major influence on their voting decision, well behind purchasing power at 42 percent and unemployment at 30 percent. Eighty-one percent said the Toulouse events weren’t an important element in their voting choice.

The BVA poll for newspaper Le Parisien, involved 890 people questioned on March 26. No margin of error was given.

“There isn’t always a correlation between the emotional and media impact of an event and its political impact,” Gael Sliman, director of polling company BVA, said in e-mailed comments. “Insecurity remains a secondary preoccupation.”

Still, Sarkozy has announced a series of security-related measures since the Toulouse events. Seeking to combat the radicalization of Muslim youth, he said he’ll ban hard-line clerics from entering France. He said he’ll criminalize frequenting Internet sites of groups that support terrorism.


“The law considers those who frequent pedophilia sites to be pedophiles, so we can consider those who frequent sites that apologize for terrorism to be terrorists,” he has said at three election rallies so far this week.

He speaks near Versailles this evening.

At the rallies, Sarkozy has condemned those who criticized the police actions in Toulouse, and said France must better control its borders. At the same time, he’s assured France’s Muslim citizens they won’t be tarred by Merah’s actions.

“The dynamic is on our side,” Sarkozy said in an interview with Paris Match published today. “My confidence doesn’t come from the polls or the commentators. It comes from the reaction of the French. I’ve never felt such a mobilization of the French people.”

A poll released March 23 said 74 percent of the French think Sarkozy had the “appropriate attitude” to the Toulouse drama, compared with 56 percent for Hollande. Seventy-one percent thought Sarkozy handled the situation well, according to the TNS-Sofres poll that questioned 1,016 people.

Sarkozy is better rated by voters to handle security and control immigration, while Hollande is seen as better able to boost growth, create jobs, and boost salaries.

Secondary Issue

“The Toulouse events should have worked to Sarkozy’s advantage but it hasn’t worked out that way,” Keylor said.

Sarkozy has blamed Socialist challenger Hollande for not having voted the country’s most recent terror laws.

Hollande, who toured the island of Corsica over the weekend, blamed Sarkozy for not having improved security during his five-year mandate and promised to fight gangs and petty criminals, who he said help feed terrorism with guns and money.

BVA’s Sliman said Sarkozy’s handicap is that the issues that he’s better rated on are secondary issues for most French.

The first round of the election will be held on April 22, with the top two candidates facing off in a second round May 6.

The three polls on voter intention released yesterday were from Ifop, Ipsos, and Harris Interactive.

Today’s poll was from Opinionway for Le Figaro magazine and cable news channel LCI, and involved 1,148 people questioned March 26-27, with a margin of error between 2 and 3 percentage points.

Opinion Polls

The biweekly Ifop Fiducial poll for Europe 1 radio, Paris Match and Public Senat was carried out March 22 to 25 among a sample of 1,769 people. The margin of error is about 2.1 percentage points.

The Harris poll for La Chaine Parlementaire television station involved 1,231 people questioned March 22 to 26. The Ipsos poll for Le Monde questioned 978 people on March 23 and 24. No margin of error was given.

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