France's Hollande Extends Lead over Aubry as October Vote Looms
The polls regarding the French Socialist party, that will in all likelihood field one of the candidates in the second and decisive round of the French presidential elections in 2012 - against Marine Le Pen or Nicolas Sarkozy - have remained fairly steady.
The French Socialists are holding their annual policy meeting, called the "Summer University", at the city of La Rochelle, once the bastion of French Protestantism during the religious civil wars.
Former party secretary and member of parliament, Francois Hollande, has reinforced his lead to some extent over Martine Aubry, the person who succeeded him as party secretary.
The 57 year old Hollande stayed low-key at the meeting and continued to stress the fact that the polls show him to be the most electable socialist candidate in a two-man race against the incumbent president Nicolas Sarkozy.
Aubry and her supporters, despite the appeals for party unity, are taking an aggressive approach at the conclave. Madame Albury complained that she inherited from her rival a pitiful party organization that she has since reorganized.
Hollande continued the policy of ignoring his intraparty rivals and concentrating his fire on the incumbent president Sarcozy.
A poll for the newspaper Le Monde carried out by the French Institute for Public opinion (IFOP) showed Hollande with 42% followed by Aubry with 31%. Followers of Aubry and the party's candidate in 2007, Segolene Royal, claim that the novel primary method of allowing people who are not members of the Socialist party to vote, makes polling unreliable.
They assume that Aubry has an advantage amongst voters to the left of the Socialist party. The pollsters themselves dispute that assumption and claim that Hollande runs equally well among voters on the more radical left. Apparently the smell of power exerts a strong influence on the left.
Hollande builds his lead by crushing his rival among male voters and those who are over 60. Additionally, by a wide majority, Hollande is considered more electable.
Holland therefore is conducting his campaign as if he had already been crowned the common candidate of the left. He is therefore trying to avoid a last minute mistake and make sure that the polls remain the same in the next two weeks so that Aubry will not be able to overtake him by October.
A wildcard may be his former partner and the mother to his four children, Segolene Royal, the party's 2007 candidate. If Royal backs Aubry on the second round, the difference between Hollande and Aubry narrows, but Hollande still leads by about 7 percent.
A problem common to all the candidates is how to position themselves in terms of the general European economic crisis and the threat that France could face a downgrade from its AAA rating.
President Sarkozy proposes a constitutional amendment that will compel a balanced budget and would bring France up to Germany's level. To pass the amendment requires Socialist support, but they reject the idea.
The Socialists believe that the economic medicine must include a dollop of growth together with austerity. Therefore Hollande has proclaimed his intention of convincing the Germans to adopt a more flexible policy, while he in turn would be willing to favor budget balancing as part of a unwritten policy but not within the constraints of a constitutional amendment.
His main rival, Aubry, rejects austerity as a solution. Both have promised to roll back the retirement age to 60 after Sarkozy, despite bitter demonstrations, managed to extend it to age 62.