By Adham Bishr
France has elected its first Socialist president in almost 20 years. François Hollande has defeated Nicolas Sarkozy by an extremely narrow margin, gaining 51.6 percent of the vote—barely a majority. While every journalist has his or her own take on how to interpret the French election and what it means for America, there is no reason to expect that President Obama is happy with the result.
Some would argue that both Hollande and Obama are of the leftist political leanings and that Hollande’s election is proof that austerity measures are waning in popularity (evident also in Greece). But, the truth is that this election came down to the most important factor in every voter’s mind: the economy. Not enough French voters believed that Sarkozy had done enough to fix unemployment (with its persistence in France at 10 percent) and lost faith when France’s credit rating was downgraded to AA. Essentially, this election was a referendum on Sarkozy’s economic performance. Despite bold moves like raising the retirement age from 60 to 62 (inspiring protests that made those against Obamacare seem mild) and strong international standing for his partnership with Merkel and France’s role in Libya, Sarkozy could not keep his seat.
On the other hand, François Hollande was not the first choice of his party (just as Romney was not), but was ushered in when Dominique Strauss-Kahn fell from grace after being accused of rape in New York. Largely viewed as a bureaucratic operator, Hollande is seen as the calm, managerial type to bring France’s finances into line. This is a striking contrast to Sarkozy’s bombastic and larger-than-life personality.
Others may argue that the politics of left and right are what spurred Hollande’s victory, especially the enormous hatred of austerity measures. While such a view is justified, the larger issue was whether or not the people felt that Sarkozy had done enough to help the economy. The short answer is no; voters felt that Sarkozy fell victim to a “throw out the bums” type of thinking, especially in bad economic times. This election was a referendum on Sarkozy’s economic performance. Unless President Obama can successfully prove that he is better than Mitt Romney at running the United States’ economy for another four years, he too will be out of a job.
Photo Courtesy of Sandrine Magrin