Jonathan Jones

DSK arrest doesn’t spell success for Sarkozy

DSK arrest doesn't spell success for Sarkozy
Text settings

Before being arrested in New York for rape, Dominque Strauss-Kahn wasn't just the Managing Director of the IMF. He was also the frontrunner in next year's French presidential election. In virtually every poll since last summer, Straus-Kahn had posted big leads: both against his fellow Socialists in the primary and against Nicolas Sarkozy in the general.

So you might have thought that the trouble that has befallen DSK would improve Sarkozy's chances of being re-elected in 2012. Certainly the rape charges make Strauss-Kahn very unlikely to run, and much less likely to win even if he did, but the latest polling suggests it's not Sarkzoy who benefits at his expense. Rather, it's the other prominent Socialist candidates: François Hollande and Martine Aubry.

Strauss-Kahn had led the primary polling by around 20 points, with Hollande and Aubry effectively tied for second. In the latest polls, with Strauss-Kahn removed from the running, it is François Hollande who gains the most: he now leads Aubry by around 15 to 20 points. Here's how their standings have changed, according to the two major pollsters that have data from both April and May:

As you can see, Hollande appears to have picked up the majority of DSK's support and currently looks likely to be the Socialist who will take the fight to Sarkozy in the general election. And should he do so, would he be any weaker an opponent for the current president than Strauss-Kahn would've been? It seems not. He's now polling at around 30 percent in the first round, with Sarkozy trailing by about 10 points. This is roughly the same lead that DSK had over Sarkozy before his arrest. If the Socialists pick Aubry as their nominee, it could be somewhat closer: her lead over Sarkozy is around 5.

In France, the top two go through to a second round run-off (unless one gets over 50 percent in the first round). Against Strauss-Kahn, polls suggested Sarkozy would lose this head-to-head by about 62-38. Against Hollande, he now trails 60-40. Should he face Aubry, he currently looks set to lose roughly 57-43.

Indeed, it's worth pointing out that Sarkozy may struggle even to make it through to the run-off. He has Marine Le Pen, of the far-right Front National, snapping at his heels:recent polls put her between 2 and 5 points behind. Certainly, Le Pen's star has dimmed a little since some polls actually put her in the lead in March and April, but it is by no means impossible that she makes it to the run-off, as her father Jean-Marie Le Pen did in 2002. Even if she does so, however, there is little danger of her winning the Presidency: she loses in head-to-head polling against any of the other major candidates by at least 70-30.

All in all, things aren't looking good for Sarko's re-election, even with Strauss-Kahn out of the race. His problems look particularly stark when you see his approval ratings, which have gone from bad to worse in the last three years:

For a president to win re-election when 70 per cent have a negative opinion of him just a year before the election would be remarkable. For him to do so against candidates who are polling well, like Hollande and Aubry, would be even more so.