Category Archives: Primaries, leadership contests or internal party votes

USA 2012: Nevada caucuses 2012

After Florida’s primary on January 31, the the race for the Republican nomination in the United States shifted far westward to Nevada, which held caucuses on February 4.

Following his landslide defeat to Newt Gingrich in South Carolina, Mitt Romney roared back in Florida with a 14-point win over Gingrich in the biggest state to vote thus far. Romney’s crushing of Gingrich in Florida was made possible by Romney’s huge financial base, which far outweighs Gingrich’s financial backings, and which made a series of hard hitting attack ads on Gingrich possible for Romney. Gingrich not only came out of Florida limping on to the next contests, he also came out of there with his favourability ratings almost down the train with GOP voters and a campaign which seems crazier by the day. Romney’s win in Florida re-established him as the likely nominee, but he will have to wait longer than he might want to officially get that crown. In the meantime, however, Romney can cheer himself up with a February schedule which is generally leaning in his favour and pretty unfavourable to Gingrich, who pins his hopes on Southern primaries on Super Tuesday March 6.

The first of the February contests was Nevada, where Mitt Romney had won 51% against Ron Paul’s 13.7% in 2008. Nevada’s caucus electorate is predictably very conservative – it was only slightly less conservative than Iowa’s caucus electorate in 2008 – and that advantaged Romney in 2008 but disadvantages him now. But 25% of Nevada’s GOP electorate is Mormon, which is Mitt Romney’s strongest base. Organization is also pretty important in a caucus, where a candidate’s ability to get out the vote is one of the main keys to caucus success. Romney has one of the strongest organization of any GOP candidate, while in contrast Gingrich’s organization in Nevada was in shambles and barely operative. Ron Paul’s Nevada machine, however, was well-oiled, and Paul has always performed strongly in caucus states, and perhaps doubly so this year as he appeals more and more to deficit-hawk conservatives.

The caucuses were a total mess and the vote counting process was a disgrace. It took the party about a full day to figure out what to count, how to count and when to count the votes in Clark County (Las Vegas), meaning that full results basically came out this morning after they wasted the whole of yesterday figuring out what they were doing.

Results and Conclusions

Mitt Romney 50.12%
Newt Gingrich 21.15%
Ron Paul 18.77%
Rick Santorum 9.96%

Mitt Romney was able to win a pretty significant victory in Nevada, with over 50% of the vote, despite the conservatism of 83% of caucus-goers. He won a result slightly below his 2008 result, likely because of his struggles with conservative voters thus far this year. But it is still a very significant win for Romney, a win which again boosts his momentum going into February.

Newt Gingrich manged to place a very distant second, surprisingly beating out Ron Paul for second place when many had assumed that Paul would do quite well (over 20% at least) in a state which is generally seen as being favourable to his campaign. Gingrich likely remains the second-place contender in the national race, but his path to a potential nomination is very much unclear and his campaign will struggle throughout February despite his insistence that he will fight until the convention in August. Perhaps Romney quite likes it that way, because having a Newt Gingrich consistently placing second but not dropping out only divides the ‘not-Romney’ vote and Gingrich is far less of a threat to Romney in a one-on-one fight than Santorum is. Santorum’s main problem is his lack of funds and his very feeble non-Iowa organization, because otherwise Santorum has the qualities required to seriously threaten Romney: a clean, polished and well-managed campaign, a strong and conservative record. In contrast, Gingrich’s campaign is all over the place, full of mishaps, his past full of skeletons and a record which doesn’t really reek of sparkling-clean conservatism. Yet, Santorum has too few funds and an organization too weak to appear as a viable conservative alternative. His base so far seems to be non-Southern religious/social populist conservatives, which is a very limited base to work with. Santorum placed a very poor fourth in Nevada, where he had invested some resources, with only 10% of the vote.

The February 7 contests in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri are a make-or-break chance for Santorum, who must fight to maintain his campaign in the sphere of relevance. Missouri’s primary is a joke as it is non-binding, but given that Gingrich is not on the ballot there, Santorum has a great chance at proving himself one-on-one against Romney in a state which has some demographics favourable to the not-Romney candidates. Romney carried Minnesota’s caucuses easily in 2008 against John McCain, but a poll has shown Santorum leading a very divided field, and a win in Minnesota would be excellent news for Santorum.

Ron Paul will also be fighting for the prize in Minnesota, where he might be within striking distance of his first state victory. A victory in Minnesota could boost his chances in Maine’s week-long caucuses (Feb 4-11), where early leaks have said that Paul is actually ahead thus far. Ron Paul won’t win the nomination, but in the very slight chance that it boils down to a convention fight, a Paul coming in with a big slate of delegates could give him some pretty strong bargaining cards.

Entrance Poll Data

Nevada’s electorate was quite old: 35% were above 65, about the same as in Florida. Given that older voters heavily back Romney everywhere (they did so in Nevada again, with 54%, the highest of all age groups), this likely explains part of why Romney won. He still won all other age groups except Paul’s core 17-29 base, which preferred Paul over Romney by 5 points (41-36). In terms of income, again, we find a graduated income scale in perfect correlation with Romney’s support. He lost those earning less than $30k to Gingrich and Paul (32 and 31% respectively vs. 29%) while winning all other income groups, peaking at 54% among those who earned between $100-200k. Nevada’s voters are not known for being extremely rich, and those earning over $200k made up only 6% of the electorate – too small for a reliable sample. They likely backed Romney very heavily.

83% of Nevada’s caucus-goers were conservatives – as much as in Iowa and 8% more than in the 2008 Nevada caucuses. That Romney was able to dominate this group without too much worries is encouraging for him, who has so far struggled to win conservatives (he lost the very conservative crowd to Newt in Florida). Conservatives gave him 51% support against 23% for Gingrich and 15% for Paul. This is down 5 from 2008, when Romney was clearly the conservative alternative to McCain. In fact, Romney did better with conservatives than moderates: he won moderates/liberals 48-36 over Paul. The 49% who identified as ‘very conservative’ backed Romney 46-25 over Gingrich, a result down 11 points from 2008 for Mitt. Yet, his result with moderates is up 11 on 2008. Nevada’s conservative electorate is unlike the ‘Southern-type’ conservative electorate in Iowa, South Carolina or Florida. Nevada conservatives are probably those who care the least about gays and abortions (only 4% cited abortion as their top issue), but are probably very conservative on economic and fiscal issues – 75% supported the Tea Party (those who did backed Romney pretty convincingly too). On issues of taxes and economic conservatives, Romney has indisputable appeal to those types of conservatives. Yet only 4% of those who cited being a “true conservative” as the top candidate quality backed Romney.

Mormons were a quarter of the electorate and gave Romney 88% of the vote, down from 95% in 2008. Catholics gave Romney 48% of the vote, but Protestants only gave him a 37-34 edge over Gingrich.

On the ability to defeat Obama, still the top candidate quality, Romney scored a home run: 70% of those who cited that as their top quality in a candidate backed Romney. His electability card remains a powerful weapon which all other candidates struggle to seize from him.

Geographic Analysis

Results of the NV caucuses (source: uselectionatlas)

Nevada is a large state, but in electoral terms, elections are made and often won in Clark County (Las Vegas), which contained 53% of the GOP caucus-goers. In second place, Washoe County (Reno) contributes another share, while the vast sprawling desert contains few voters. Romney definitely owes part of his success in Nevada to his convincing victory in Clark, where he won 57.7% of the vote, Paul placing a distant second with 19% in the Sin City’s county. Clark County Republicans tend to be affluent and suburban, a perfect base for Romney. There might be a not-insignificant Mormon base in Clark County’s GOP caucus-goers, but Mormons are usually found in Lincoln County, just north of Clark, where Romney won 83.6% of the vote in a county which is about 50% Mormon (and looks like a flipped Utah). To a lesser extent, the Mormon vote likely influenced the results in White Pine County and maybe Elko County, but Elko is a fairly well-off semi-booming gold mining town, which is a kind of place which Romney should do well in.

Gingrich and Santorum performed better in the sparsely populated desert areas (outside those bordering Utah, obviously), likely more Protestant and conservative. Gingrich won 28% to Romney’s 42% in Washoe (Reno), and actually won a county – Mineral – which seems fairly unremarkable except being an old mining boom town county which barely has anybody left anymore (only 103 GOP caucus-goers).

Ron Paul had carried one county against Romney in 2008 – Nye – and he repeated his success in Nye, building on it even, taking 45.8% in Nye, whose biggest town is Pahrump. He also won tiny Esmeralda County – 58 GOP caucus-goers on Saturday. Pahrump and Nye are very libertarian places, part of it influenced by a phenomenon common to the entire Rocky Mountain West – the federal government owns most of the land. Otherwise, Pahrump is a very live-and-let-live type of place: unlike in Vegas, prostitution is legal and brothels operate in town; and people are extremely pro-gun, and voters are libertarian and independent in their politics. This is pure Paul country, and also the type of place – besides Vegas – which the name Nevada often evokes.

30,000 or so GOP voters turned out to caucus on Saturday, which is actually down from 44,000 caucus-goers in 2008. This is not an encouraging sign for the NV GOP in a swing state like Nevada. Unlike in the 2008 Democratic contest, the opposition party seems to have little ground enthusiasm for the candidates lining up to defeat the incumbent. Another part of the story is that the NV GOP is in shambles, as it demonstrated by its total ineptness at vote counting. Their organization on the ground is terrible and their coordination of the caucus was apparently a total mess. While this might not prevent Romney or the GOP candidate from potentially winning the state in November (although I wouldn’t bet on it), it is never good news for a swing state party to be inept at what it does and totally devoid in ground-base or organization.

For the first time since Iowa, we know relatively little about the caucuses and beauty-pageant primary being held on February 7. For the first time, in states such as Minnesota, we have a hard time predicting the outcome.

USA 2012: Florida primaries 2012

Ten days after South Carolina, the race for the Republican nomination in the United States moved on to Florida on January 31. Florida is the biggest state to vote thus far. In terms of delegates, Florida held 5o delegates – it lost half of its delegates after the RNC penalized it for moving its primary forward. All delegates were allocated by winner-take-all, whereby the primary winner won all delegates.

Newt Gingrich came out of South Carolina with a decisive victory over Mitt Romney, severely halting Romney’s post-NH momentum and putting into renewed doubt his ability to win the nomination. South Carolina’s GOP primary electorate had been fairly representative of the GOP electorate in the rest of the conservative religious South, a region where Romney, whose conservative credentials are always placed in doubt, is the weakest. Romney could afford to live with a defeat in South Carolina, but understood that the Florida primary would be crucial for him. Florida is a Southern state in terms of geography, but in terms of culture, demographics and economy it is far more northern.

Gingrich came out of his South Carolina landslide with a major bump in polls in Florida, catapulting him into the lead. But his momentum proved to be short lived after Gingrich performed poorly in the first debate on January 23 and failed to perform any better in the debate on January 26. On the 23rd, Romney took back the advantage in Florida and his lead grew into the double digits following the final debates. Romney performed far better in the debates in Florida than he had in South Carolina, but Romney’s ability to turn the race around in Florida also lies on other factors. One of Romney’s major edge over all other candidates is his impressive warchest, and he used that warchest extensively in Florida to come out with hard-hitting attack ads on Gingrich, which severely hurt Gingrich’s campaign. Romney’s strategy was not to convince voters to vote for him but rather to convince voters that Gingrich is such an horrible person that Romney was by the default the most palatable option, and also the most electable option (which is still true). Gingrich also had a few missteps of his own, the most important of which was his declaration that he’d built a lunar colony if elected, a comment aimed at Florida’s Space Coast but which ended up being received as populistic pork-barreling and opportunism to win votes. Rommey’s strategy ended up being successful as Gingrich’s favourability numbers collapsed.

Florida was really a two-person contest. Ron Paul never put any effort into Florida, because it was WTA state where he had no chance at gaining anything tangible (delegates) unless he won the state. Paul is more interested in the February caucus state, where he is naturally stronger and where he has been placing lots of resources. Rick Santorum originally placed some effort into Florida and his strong debate performance on January 26 helped his numbers a but, but he quickly decided that it would be a better idea to campaign in Nevada ahead of caucuses in that western state on February 4. Santorum’s campaign was halted when his 3-year old daughter Bella, who has Edwards Syndrome, was rushed to the hospital with pneumonia.

Results and Conclusions

Mitt Romney 46.42%
Newt Gingrich 31.93%
Rick Santorum 13.34%
Ron Paul 7.01%
Others 1.3%

Mitt Romney won a decisive landslide victory in Florida. In doing so, he has put his campaign back on track after the accident in South Carolina and once again solidifies his claim to being the presumptive nominee. Indeed, with all his money and organization as well as his main opponent’s serial weaknesses, it is hard to see Romney failing to win the nomination at this point. Florida’s 50 WTA delegates places Romney far ahead of his rivals in the race for delegates, but even if Romney won all delegates still up for grabs, he would only reach the nomination (50%+1 of delegates) in April. The slightly slower primary calendar in 2012 compared to 2008 makes a longer nomination race more likely, even though Romney should still be able to pull out the nomination in the end.

Romney’s defeat in South Carolina was, from a certain angle, not too unsurprising. South Carolina was demographically unfavourable to him as it contained rather few of the voters with which Romney dominates and a lot of the voters who are the coolest towards Romney. Romney’s core base is basically more-or-less moderate affluent, older Republicans living in wealthy suburbs or similar places. South Carolina is a poor state which has few affluent suburbs with moderate Republicans who like Mitt. In contrast, Florida’s Republican base – especially in southern Florida – is generally old, affluent and more naturally inclined to support moderate-establishment Republicans like Romney. Romney has always done well with older voters (as well as the wealthiest voters), and Florida has a lot of old voters: those 65 and up made up 36% of the Florida electorate – the oldest electorate of any of the four states which have voted.

Romney also has another sizable advantage in his fight with Newt Gingrich. The February contests are generally said to be favourable to Romney and Gingrich is facing a tough race in almost all of them. If Romney can sweep February, which is not unlikely, he would place Gingrich in a situation similar to that of Hillary Clinton after February 2008, where she had lost many small caucus states and the Potomac Primaries to Barack Obama. A lot of these are caucus states (NV, ME, CO and MN) where Romney had performed very well in 2008, but that was because the conservative alternative to McCain and caucus electorates are well known to be very conservative compared to primary electorates. Romney doesn’t have the conservative caucus boost any longer, a boost which Ron Paul may have this year. Late February primaries in Arizona and Michigan should both favour Romney. Gingrich will be trying to remain viable until March, when a lot of Southern states favourable to him vote.

Ron Paul will try to mark February with a few victories of his own, perhaps in Maine, Colorado or Minnesota. Rick Santorum, meanwhile, will put some resources in the caucus states (Colorado, Nevada in particular) while also hoping to score a symbolic win in Missouri’s non-binding ‘beauty pageant’ primary where Gingrich is not on the ballot.

The next contest is on February 4 in Nevada, the first state west of the Mississippi to vote. Nevada had been very favourable to Romney in 2008, giving him 51% against Paul’s 13.7%. Romney had two advantages in Nevada in 2008, one of which he still has. Firstly, about a quarter of the GOP caucus-goers in Nevada are likely to be Mormons and Romney had won 95% of their votes in Nevada in 2008. Romney obviously still has this sizable advantage, which gives him an absolute floor of 25% or so. The second advantage he had in 2008 was that he was the non-Southern conservative alternative to McCain, and Nevada’s 2008 GOP electorate was the second most conservative electorate behind Iowa – 75% were conservatives. Romney won 56% of their votes in 2008, but only 37% of the votes from those who were moderates (beating McCain, who placed third in the caucuses, by 10 points). Romney has lost this conservative edge which is important in caucuses, becoming something of the 2012 John McCain. Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum are better positioned to appeal to Nevada’s conservatives. Polls have been sparse and unreliable in Nevada, but Romney does not have the huge lead he had in 2008.

Exit Poll Data

As always, exit polls provide us with interesting conclusions about the candidate’s distribution of support. There was a pretty interesting gender gap: men backed Romney by only 5 points over Gingrich but women backed Romney by a full 23 points. In terms of age groups, Florida’s electorate was quite old: 18-29s made up only 6% of the electorate and even that Paul-friendly group backed Romney, although only with 41% against 25% for Paul. The older you are, the more likely you were to back Romney: he peaked at 51% support (vs. 34% for Newt) among those over 65. Remember that those 65+ voters made up 36% of the electorate.

69% of voters identified as conservative, against 31% who said they were moderates or liberals. In 2008, Romney had won conservatives with 37% against 29% for McCain – he even took 44% with those 2008 voters who were very conservative. This year, Romney won conservatives but only by 4 points over Gingrich, who won those who were ‘very conservative’ by 9. Moderates or liberals gave Romney a 39-point gap over Gingrich. 40% of voters were evangelical or born-again Christian, and they voted for Gingrich with 38% against 36% for Romney. In 2008, that same crowd had split 30% for McCain and 29% apiece for Huckabee and Romney.

Again, there was a perfect correlation between high income and high Romney support. While Romney won all income levels, he won only 42% with those earning less than $30k. In contrast, he won 61% with those earning over $200k, building a 37-point gap over Gingrich with that wealthiest 9% of the electorate.

Romney dominated the field with those voters who thought the economy was most important (52-30 over Gingrich) and also won those who felt the deficit was the biggest issue (41-34 over Gingrich). Gingrich won the 7% who felt abortion was the most important issue, taking 43% against 28% for Santorum. Romney gained back the edge over Gingrich in terms of electability, still the most important quality for GOP voters. He won 58% support among the 45% who cite a candidate’s electability in November as their top concern. In contrast, only 11% of those who felt that being a true conservative was the top quality backed Romney.

Debates and ads played a key role in Romney’s victory. As in South Carolina, debates were important for 69% of voters, but Romney won those voters with 42% against 34% for Gingrich. Campaign ads were important for 41% of voters and a factor in the vote of 71% of voters, and Romney clearly reaped the fruits of his attack ads. He won 59% of those who said the ads were important in their vote, against a mere 25% for Gingrich. Gingrich’s favourability numbers also show the results of Romney’s scorched earth strategy: a full 40% of voters had an unfavourable view of Gingrich, compared to just 20% of voters who had an unfavourable view of Romney. Another 42% said they would not be satisfied if Gingrich won the nomination, against only 31% who feel the same about Romney winning the nomination.

Geographical Analysis

Results of the FL primary (source: uselectionatlas)

There was a very apparent geographic divide in the map of the Florida primary. This geographic divide basically reflects the nature of the state. Florida, although geographically southern, is not a Southern state in the cultural sense of that capitalized term. In fact, only northern Florida is Southern while southern Florida is far more northern. The Florida Panhandle, which borders Alabama and Georgia, is geographically closest to the Deep South and shares similar economic, racial, cultural and religious traits. It is the most culturally Southern region, characterized by an old black minority in old plantation counties, racialized voting patterns, stronger religious faith and a long history of being a Dixiecrat stronghold – registered Democrats still outnumber Republicans by a significant margin in a number of white conservative counties in the Panhandle. The Panhandle, in short, is the only region of Florida which resembles the Deep South and the patterns we found last week in South Carolina.

Newt Gingrich clearly dominated in North Florida and the Panhandle. He lost only Leon County, home to Tallahassee, Florida’s liberal state capital and its affluent suburb; Bay County, dominated by the ‘redneck riviera’ resort city of Panama City and Okaloosa County, which besides the resort town of Fort Walton Beach includes a large military base. Romney also did well in Escambia County, which includes the big military and resort town of Pensacola. In the heart of the Panhandle, including those counties which basically form a circle around Tallahassee, Gingrich blew Romney out of the water. This rural conservative region, with no countervailing military or tourist influence, is also where Rick Santorum did well, winning over 20% of the vote. Unfortunately for Newt, Republican registration remains so low in those counties that rarely is the number of votes cast in those places over 1000 votes. Only 172 votes, for example, were cast in Liberty County which favoured Gingrich over Romney by a 43-25 margin. Gingrich also did surprisingly well in Alachua County, which despite including the liberal college town of Gainesville seems to have a fairly right-wing GOP base.

Newt Gingrich won all but two of the counties where a plurality of census respondents in 2000 claimed “American” ancestry, which is a good indicator of Southern culture as opposed to ancestries such as “German” or “English” which are reflective of northern or western whites. In South Carolina, all counties where “American” had been the largest ancestry voted for Gingrich. If this pattern continues, Gingrich is in strong position to to win the Deep South states and a good part of the Outer South states.

Despite outspending Gingrich 5-1 and hitting the air with series of attack ads, Romney’s money was unable to win him a breakthrough in culturally Southern Florida. The results in the Panhandle shows that Romney has a very real ‘Southern problem’ which could pose a threat to him in March, when states like Alabama and Georgia will vote. Romney actually lost ground compared to 2008 in nine counties, all in North Florida, including Duval (Jacksonville) and Bay (Panama City). Six counties which went for Romney in 2008 went for Gingrich, all those counties being basically in the greater Jacksonville metro. Jacksonville, with a black inner city and affluent white suburbs, is more reflective of Southern suburbia – heavily white and conservative in contrast to liberal black inner-city areas – than it is of moderate suburbia where Romney has done well so far. This should send a little chill to Romney, given that he had been able to win a lot of these conservative Southern suburbs around Atlanta and Nashville in 2008.

However, once we get south of culturally Southern Florida, we enter strong Romney territory, where Romney both performed strongest and where he picked up the most support vis-a-vis 2008. You can basically cut the state into two parts on the basis of this primary, with the Panhandle and North Florida backing Gingrich, while the bulk of Florida lying south of a line going from Jacksonville to Citrus County voting for Romney with minor exceptions. Romney won the conservative military-industrial complex region of the Space Coast (Brevard County), the retirement communities of the Nature Coast, Tampa-St. Pete’s affluent suburbs, the wealthy retirement communities of the Gulf Coast (Naples, Sarasota, Ft. Myers), the growing regions along the I-4 corridor (Lakeland, Orlando etc). Some of these areas, like the conservative affluent retirees (a lot of them from the Midwest) along the Gulf Coast, were natural ground for Romney. But other areas, like the I-4 corridor communities, would have been must-win areas for Gingrich if he was to have won. These middle-class white suburban areas are likely where voters were most receptive to Romney’s attack ads on Gingrich and who were more naturally inclined to support the electable option over the ideological purity option.

Gingrich won five counties in rural inland southern Florida, five counties which are pretty much the last remnants of traditional Southern culture in southern Florida. These counties, which have sizable black and Mexican populations, are still quite dependent on agriculture (hence why there are so many Mexicans) when the rest of the region is dependent on services, the military, tourism or white-collar industries. There is still a rural Southern conservatism to these counties, explaining why Gingrich won these counties.

Romney did very well in southeastern Florida, where Republicans tend to be old, moderate and affluent. He won over 50% in Indian River, Martin and Palm Beach Counties. His best result in Florida came from Miami-Dade, with 61% of the vote. The bulk of the GOP electorate in Miami is Cuban, and while the Cuban community is right-wing on the Cuban issue, it is more moderate on immigration and social issues. Romney had the backing of the Cuban GOP machine, led by Rep. Lincoln Díaz-Balart, and the Cuban community has tended to support fairly moderate establishment candidates: it backed McCain very heavily in 2008, and Romney had done very poorly with Cubans in 2008. Santorum and Paul also won their worst results in Miami-Dade.

The race gets more unpredictable as it enters the notoriously hard to poll caucus states. Romney remains the favourite for the nomination, but that doesn’t mean that the fun is over.

USA 2012: South Carolina 2012

The race for the Republican nomination for this year’s American presidential election continued on January 21 with the “first in the South” primary in South Carolina. This is the third contest following the Iowa caucuses on January 3 and the NH primary on January 10. Rick Santorum ended up being certified as the winner in Iowa by a mere 34 votes after originally trailing Romney by 8 votes on election night. Mitt Romney won New Hampshire by a decisive margin, taking 39.3% of the vote in his ‘firewall’ state.

Rick Santorum’s delayed victory in Iowa (on January 19) did not generate much buzz so long after the actual caucus, so the record going into South Carolina was 2 wins and no loses for Romney. For Mitt Romney, South Carolina was a crucial state, almost a must-win for him. If he could score a knock-out blow in a conservative Southern state, it would if not speed up Romney’s potential nomination but could seal the deal for him. On top of that, South Carolina has picked the eventual Republican nominee in all contests since 1980, meaning that it is much more decisive than Iowa or New Hampshire who have tended to either choose insurgent/rebel candidates or just picked the “wrong guy”. In 2000, Governor Bush’s decisive win over John McCain pretty much ended the race for McCain while in 2008, John McCain’s victory over Southern evangelical Mike Huckabee did not end the race but it did give McCain major momentum going into Florida and Super Tuesday. Romney understood this, as did his three remaining rivals: Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul. Gingrich emerged as Romney’s main rival.

The race was bloody and a real roller-coaster. Gingrich’s original line of attack against Romney was Romney’s role in Bain Capital, but that attack pretty much backfired on Gingrich. As late as Monday-Tuesday, Romney had started pulling away from Gingrich and it seemed as if he would win the state pretty easily. But Romney did very poorly in a debate on Monday January 16 and stumbled further in a heated debate on January 19. In the final debate, Romney’s campaign was dealt a serious blow as he equivocated over his tax records (which he has not yet released, unlike Gingrich). When asked by CNN’s John King in the debate if Romney would follow in his father’s footsteps and release his tax records, Romney answered with a funny yet pretty strategically horrible “maybe”.

Gingrich could have been hurt with his conservative base by an ABC news interview with his second wife who claimed that he had asked her for an “open marriage” and that topic became the first subject of discussion in the CNN debate on January 19. But Gingrich, knowing the Republican electorate’s natural propensity to view the media as liberal and constantly seeking to destroy Republicans, gave a skillfully crafted answer which conveyed the feelings of many Republicans towards the media, calling the story ridiculous and disgusting. It generated a surge of sympathy of sorts for Gingrich, perceived by the Republican electorate as the victim of the liberal media.

Two candidates dropped out of the race between NH and SC. Jon Huntsman withdrew and endorsed Romney, realizing that after 17% in NH he had nowhere to go, especially not in a conservative state like South Carolina. Rick Perry, the biggest flop of this campaign, dropped out and endorsed Gingrich, realizing that his ‘last stand’ in SC was quite futile and that he no longer had a place in the campaign. Perry, a Southern evangelical, endorsing Gingrich (despite the “open marriage” moral issue) gave Gingrich a small momentum boost. On January 18, the race turned around as a whole string of polls showing Gingrich ahead came out. The January 19 debate only sped up Gingrich’s train.

Results and Conclusions

Newt Gingrich 40.41%
Mitt Romney 27.84%
Rick Santorum 16.98%
Ron Paul 12.99%
Herman Cain 1.05%
Rick Perry 0.41%
Others 0.31%

Results of the SC primary (source: uselectionatlas)

Newt Gingrich scored a landslide victory in South Carolina. After Iowa and New Hampshire, we had all presumed that Romney was becoming quite unstoppable and that he would be the likely nominee. However, Gingrich blowing Romney out of the water in Romney throws the race wide open. Gingrich’s victory in South Carolina is a mix of a number of things: late momentum for him following the ‘media attacks’ and Perry’s endorsement, negative coverage of Romney’s campaign following the tax records flop, his conservative stand in a conservative state against a moderate and a “Southern advantage” for Gingrich which should not be forgotten.

South Carolina is a conservative state and Evangelicals are a major voting bloc in the GOP primaries, but unlike, say, Alabama, it isn’t quite unwinnable for non-Southern or more moderate candidates. It backed John McCain over Mike Huckabee, despite McCain’s less-than-perfect conservative credentials and Huckabee’s standing as the sole Southern evangelical candidate in the race. Which is to say that despite Romney’s 15% in SC in 2008, Romney could have won South Carolina. Especially after his early momentum, Romney at one point looked unstoppable. But what seems to have happened is that Romney turned into the ‘Flavour of the Month’ like Bachmann, Perry, Cain and Gingrich before him. He experienced a brief surge, all to have it crumble as he faced intensive media scrutiny and became the top target of attacks from the not-Romneys. The tax records flop did hurt him a lot, but Republicans now seem uncomfortable a bit with Romney in part because of his conservative credentials but also his standing as a very wealthy venture capitalist. There is also the matter that Romney comes out as fake and plastic under scrutiny, answering questions like a robot.

Romney was blown out of the water in South Carolina. The next contest, which is equally as decisive, will be Florida on January 31. In 2008, McCain had defeated Romney 36-31 in Florida. Unlike South Carolina, Florida isn’t “heartland Dixie” outside the Panhandle, which means that Gingrich’s southern conservative advantage is less important. At the same time, at the height of his surge in late November-early December, Gingrich polled up to 47% in Florida, which means that he definitely has a shot at winning. In the last polls, Romney had a double-digit lead in Florida, but SC will give Gingrich momentum going into Florida meaning that at this point it probably starts out as a tossup. What seems increasingly important are the debates (January 23 and 26). In SC, they derailed Romney’s momentum and exit polls showed that for 65% of voters, debates were important and for 88% of voters, debates were a factor in their vote. Romney has not performed very well in debates, and in South Carolina he performed about as well as Rick Perry. If he can turn that around in Florida, he stands a chance, but if Gingrich can continue his destruction of Romney in Florida’s debates then it will be hard for Romney to fight back.

Following Florida, the next contests are a string of caucuses in Nevada (Feb 4), Colorado, Minnesota (Feb 7) and Maine (Feb 11) plus a beauty pageant primary in Missouri on February 7 where no delegates are distributed and Gingrich isn’t on the ballot there. Besides Missouri, Romney had won all those contests in 2008, a year in which Romney’s strength was caucuses. Caucuses tend to skew heavily conservative (Nevada had the second most conservative GOP electorate in 2008, behind Iowa), and Romney had an edge in 2008 as the ‘conservative’ candidate against Romney but in 2012 it is doubtful that Romney will have a similar advantage. Ron Paul can be expected to perform very strongly in all those caucus states, and it is not impossible that he runs away with one or two of those states. If Gingrich can hold on throughout this tougher spell, March will be a largely “Southern” month in which Gingrich should do well. But Gingrich needs to avoid becoming a second Mike Huckabee, an overrated sectional candidate. He has shown that in SC, but he must show it in Florida.

Rick Santorum won third place with 17%, which is impressive considering that Santorum had no organization in SC and still has little money to compete, but it seems as if South Carolina has halted what was left of Santorum’s post-Iowa momentum. He can still perform well, but it is doubtful he can win any other upcoming contests. He lacks the organization and money which he had in Iowa but which he doesn’t really have elsewhere. He has signaled that he remains in the race, claiming that it’s a dead heat after the 1-1-1 tie in state wins, but really if Santorum’s point is to win (unlike Ron Paul, who has money and a solid base and can just pile up delegates in case of a brokered convention), then he has little chance to do so. Rick Santorum is a strong candidate for South Carolina (despite being a Pennsylvania Catholic) and his social conservative record is the cleanest of all candidates, but it seems as if his main weakness is that he’s not a Southerner. In Iowa, he had very much under-performed Huckabee in those southern Iowa counties which are the most culturally Southern: those counties have preferred Southerners like John Edwards (in 2004 and 2008 Democratic caucuses) and Rick Perry this year.

For Ron Paul, 13% in South Carolina is a very good showing. South Carolina, like the bulk of the Confederacy, is not fertile ground for Ron Paul whose traditional base is dependent on a big presence of college kids or libertarian/moderate Republicans in places like Montana. Dixie has none of those, and Paul had won only 3.6% in SC in 2008. This shows that he has developed a much wider appeal to conservative Republicans or Republicans worried a lot about the deficit. Paul seems to be skipping Iowa, but as mentioned above, the caucus states in February should be favourable to Paul who has a motivated base and an increasingly conservative electorate. Paul probably won’t drop out until the convention, given that he has nothing to lose by staying in and nothing to gain from getting out. In fact, if the convention is a brokered convention (it probably won’t be), he could have a key role at the negotiating table if he piles up many delegates.

Herman Cain, everybody’s favourite candidate, did so “well” despite dropping out because he allowed his ballot slot to be used by comedian Stephen Colbert for purposes of Colbert’s attempt to throw himself into these primaries. Colbert and Cain held a large rally together in South Carolina, but it was mostly filled with liberals and out-of-state college kids.

Exit Poll Data

The exit polls provide interesting data to reflect on. Gingrich won all age groups save for the 18-29 cohort which went for Paul, and performed strongest with the older voters (65+, he took 47% of their vote) as did Romney (36%). For Romney, income remains one of the best predictors – save for a weird 29% showing for Romney with the poorest voters (under $30k), the wealthier you are the more likely you are to back Romney: he won the highest earners ($200k+) with 47% against 32% for Gingrich.

Republicans were 71% of the electorate, and they backed Gingrich 45-28 over Romney, but independents (25%) also supported him, though by a narrower 31-25-23 margin over Romney and Paul. Predictably, voters were quite conservative: 68% were conservatives (-1 from 2008) and 32% were moderates or liberals. Romney won moderates with 34% against 31% for Gingrich, while conservatives backed him 45-24 over Mitt. With those 36% who were very conservative, Gingrich won 48%. Evangelical Christians were 65% of the electorate, and those voters gave Gingrich 44% against 22% for Romney and 21% for Santorum.

The economy was the most important issue for 63% of voters, and Gingrich won those voters with 40% against 32% for Romney. Paul performed best (19%) with those 22% who cited the budget deficit as the most important issue, but Gingrich clearly dominated those voters with 45% against 23% for Romney. Predictably, Santorum rocked the field (51%) for those 8% who thought abortion was the most important issue. In what I think should ring alarm bells for Romney, he was clearly beaten by Gingrich (51-37) among those voters – 45% of the electorate – who see a candidate’s ability to defeat Obama as the most important quality. Romney’s ability to defeat Obama had been one of his biggest advantages thus far, so if he starts losing that kind of voter, it should ring alarm bells for Mitt.

On a final note, for those 65% who felt that debates were important in their vote, Gingrich was the preferred candidate with 50% against 23% for Romney. Romney, however, easily won those who felt debates were not important and won that small minority who said the debates were not even a factor in their vote by a big margin. Clearly, the debates are the main culprit in derailing Romney’s momentum.

Geographical Analysis

Politically, South Carolina is divided in three main regions: Upstate (Piedmont/Greater Appalachians), the Midlands (including the PeeDee) and the Low Country (Coastal Plains and Coastal Region). The Upstate, centered around the Evangelical epicentres of Greenville-Spartanburg (Bob Jones University is in Greenville) is a poor, deeply religious, largely white and historically textile-driven region. It has always tended to resist the power of the downstate plantations and Charleston elite, and has a very religious populist-conservative side to it. In 2008, it backed Mike Huckabee, whose strength also extended into the PeeDee region which, to a lesser extent, is also very religious and historically driven by the textile industry. Populist, conservative or evangelical candidates all play very well in this region, but they are not must-wins for winners as McCain showed.

Races are decided in the more populated Midlands and Low Country, which include the state capital and college town of Columbia, the economic centre of Charleston, the wealthy resort of Hilton Head and the tourist-retiree destination of Myrtle Beach. Historically, these regions in the Southern Black Belt were at the core of South Carolina’s plantation economy (and they retain a large black population) and exerted much of the political power. They are rather conservative (though the cities are more moderate), but more or less conservative establishment candidates usually tend to do best in the Black Belt counties while Columbia, Charleston and Hilton Head usually back moderates. At any rate, races are decided in these two regions. McCain’s victory was won there in 2008, while in 2000 Bush was able to defeat McCain by winning Upstate religious conservatives and the Midlands’ establishment conservatives (McCain won, basically, the four purely coastal counties).

Romney performed best in the Low Country, but his problem was that he ended up having limited demographic appeal. He could have won the establishment conservatives, and if he had done so he could have done without the religious conservatives of the Upstate where he was never competitive to begin with. However, Gingrich ended up having wider demographic appeal and built a Bush-like coalition of Upstate and Midlands conservatives while remaining very competitive even with the most moderate conservatives of the Low Country.

The map is pretty brutal to Romney. He won only Charleston, Richland and Beaufort Counties. Charleston and Columbia (Richland County) are the two largest cities in the state and Republicans there are largely affluent, white and more moderate. Beaufort County is Hilton Head, a very affluent resort community which is natural Romney territory. It was where he had done best in 2008, and where he did best this year with 43% of the vote. Romney was also a bit more competitive in Columbia’s suburbs, including affluent but more conservative Lexington County, and coastal Georgetown County which is affluent and old.

Gingrich won the rest of the state, by varying margins. He really did best in the Black Belt and the PeeDee (but ‘turnout’ is, of course, very low in the Black Belt), and won the Upstate. Interestingly, however, he actually did better in the Midlands/PeeDee than Upstate. This is largely because Rick Santorum’s more populist campaign (he has shown himself surprisingly ‘left-wing’ on economic issues compared to the rest of the field) resonated best with poorer populist whites. Santorum won 24% in York County, which is half Charlotte suburbia and half poorer textile country, and also won 23% in Lancaster County, 21.4% in Cherokee County and 20.7% in Spartanburg County. Ron Paul also performed best Upstate, peaking at 22% in Abbeville County, which seems fairly unremarkable besides being John C. Calhoun’s birthplace. He also did well in Greenville-Spartanburg, the rural Upstate and Pickens County (an Upstate county including the college town of Clemson). ‘Fake’ Herman Cain, predictably, did best in Columbia and Charleston (2.3%).

What should worry Romney going into Florida is his showing in Horry County (Myrtle Beach). McCain had won Horry County in 2000 and Romney had done fairly well there in 2008, so it was important for Romney to do well there. The kind of older, transplanted white retiree demographic which we find around Myrtle Beach is similar to the ones we find in parts of Florida, especially on the Gulf coast of the state (Cape Coral etc). Gingrich won Horry with 45.7% against 30% for Romney – predictably Santorum and Paul didn’t play well there. That Romney won’t do well in the Florida Panhandle is already well known, but if he wants to win Florida (he does), then he does need to perform better with the older age groups. He has a base there already, but in SC it was not large enough.

A lot of us (those who like primaries because they make for fun maps) had concluded not so long ago that the contest was over and that Romney would score a 45-50 state sweep. Less than a week later, the race is back to stage one and remains wide open. Romney’s nomination is no longer a quasi-certainty and the race is unlikely to end in Florida. It has been a crazy contest, and hopefully it remains just as crazy and fascinating!

USA 2012: Iowa and New Hampshire 2012

Happy New Year 2012 to all of this blog’s loyal readers. All the best in a year hopefully as rich as 2011 with fascinating elections.

The main election of 2012 – the American presidential contest – officially kicked off on January 3 with the Iowa caucuses and the first in the nation primary on January 10 in New Hampshire. Incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama faces no serious opposition in the Democratic primaries as an incumbent, meaning that the main contest is the one for the Republican presidential nomination. With unemployment still high, the American economy weak, the country’s debt a huge issue, a double-dip recession still a distinct possibility and popular anger over taxes and “ObamaCare” still lingering in some milieus; Obama is definitely not unbeatable and enters the 2012 contest as an incumbent hampered by the baggage of governing the world’s superpower in such hard times. Even if he wins reelection in November, it will likely be without the fanfare and enthusiasm (‘Obama-mania’) which accompanied his nomination and election in 2008.

Around the Western world, it seems as opposition parties – even those facing unpopular governments – are either terrible in their own right or are totally unable to provoke real enthusiasm around them in the wider electorate. The Republicans, after winning back the House in the 2010 mid-terms, are in such a position. They are hardly popular and their leaders are hardly inspiring to most voters. The GOP House’s leadership attitude of confrontation with the White House and the deadlock such attitude entails has not won them increased popular support. If Republicans can find comfort in Obama’s anemic approval numbers, they certainly cannot find further comfort in Congress’ terrible approval ratings which in part reflect the activities of the GOP House.

In the runup to 2012, Republicans have had a hard time finding themselves a credible champion to rally around and who is legitimately capable of defeating Obama in November. The Tea Party movement’s heyday has petered out somewhat and the movement has never been a cohesive force and it lacks a single leader. The one person who could have rallied parts of the Tea Party, Sarah Palin, did not run.

The one stable contender throughout the pre-primary season has been Mitt Romney, the Mormon businessman, former Governor of liberal Massachusetts (2003-2007) and unsuccessful 2008 presidential contender against John McCain. Romney is probably the one candidate who is the best positioned to win in 2012, but he carries along a lot of baggage. In a Republican primary where conservative values and ideological purity are increasingly important, Romney’s more moderate record as governor of Massachusetts and his liberal Republican image he had built himself in his unsuccessful 1994 run for Senate against liberal icon Ted Kennedy has created much unease about him and his conservative credentials (especially on issues such as abortion, where he was pro-choice in 1994 but is now pro-life) are often placed into serious doubt by the GOP’s right. Romney’s campaign has basically been that of a moderate Republican focused on the economy and flaunting his “businessman credentials” than on fighting the culture war. He has been the only candidate whose support has neither collapsed nor surged since he entered the race. But until recently, Romney had a glass ceiling of 25% in otherwise useless national primary polling. He has the support of GOP moderates and a good part of the more moderate establishment, and also has tons of money, but conservatives have traditionally loathed Romney.

While the moderates have their basically uncontested champion in Romney, the conservatives and the religious conservatives in the GOP have struggled to find their champion. The result has been the rapid emergence, surge and collapse of several non-Romney contenders in short succession. These ‘flavours of the month’ have all been unable – thus far – to become long-term rivals to Romney. In June and July, the first flavour was Michele Bachmann, the very conservative congresswoman from Minnesota originally hailed by some as the equivalent of Sarah Palin. Her surge was concentrated in Iowa but she never led Romney nationally.

Besides her being something of a gadfly with a penchant for inane statements, her collapse was prompted by the candidacy of  Texas Governor (since 2000) Rick Perry, who announced in early August. Perry could very well have been the conservative answer to Romney: strong conservative record, Southerner, governor of a large state, running on a record of rapid job-growth in his state and with deep appeal to the religious right and family values crowd. He also had, unlike Bachmann, high-profile backers with some very deep pockets. His support surged in September, running away with a huge lead in Iowa and nationally by mid/late September. But by early October, his support in Iowa and nationally collapsed almost overnight. It was caused in part by his poor debate performances and his support for his state’s policy of allowing in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants which alienated his right-wing backers. Perry was unable to resuscitate his campaign with a flat tax proposal or a later much-parodied ad aimed at appealing to Christian evangelical voters. His campaign turned into a worldwide joke during a debate on November 9 when Perry was unable to remember the name of the third agency of government he vowed to eliminate.

As Perry’s campaign stumbled and collapsed, he was replaced a ‘flavour of the month’ by Herman Cain, a black businessman who has never held elected office. Cain surged into the lead in Iowa by mid-October and he quickly took a narrow lead nationally over Romney as well. As an “outsider” businessman with an appealing, catchy (and controversial) tax plan – the 999 plan – he appealed to conservatives and the Tea Party movement. Cain collapsed under the weight of multiple allegations of sexual misconduct. Unlike Bachmann and Perry who did not drop out after their collapse, largely in quixotic hope of a win or strong performance in Iowa, Cain suspended his campaign on December 3.

Cain’s polling numbers had begun declining in mid-November. On the heels of Cain’s collapse, Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House and conservative hero of the Republican Revolution of 1994, surged into frontrunner status after having been at the helm of a struggling campaign for months. Gingrich surged into the lead nationally and in Iowa in mid-November and peaked roughly in early December (after Cain’s withdrawal), but his support in Iowa would evaporate very quickly (mid-December) as his legendary martial infidelity made headlines and under the weight of attacks from Romney and Ron Paul. His lead in national polling, a lagging indicator, only disappeared after Iowa (more or less).

In Iowa, Gingrich’s collapse helped Mitt Romney, who gained some additional support, but more especially Ron Paul and Rick Santorum. Ron Paul, who had run for the presidency in 2008 as well, is the icon and hero of libertarians. His somewhat out-there positions on some issues (according to his critics), his long-standing isolationist foreign policy (anti-Iraq War and so forth) and perhaps his 1988 presidential run as the Libertarian candidate have never made him a favourite of the GOP establishment, but his isolationist foreign policy mixed in with a strong record as a “budget hawk” and more traditionally conservative positions on moral/social questions have allowed him to build a bigger base in the 2012 race than in the 2008 race, in which Republicans are more isolationist than in 2008 and far more concerned about the debt and deficit than in 2008. Paul had won a strong 9.96% in Iowa in 2008, and it has always been a state where he found a more or less favourable crowd. Iowa Republicans are very conservative, but they have something of an independent or isolationist streak. Paul appealed to the Tea Party movement, especially the traditional ideological core of the movement which was at its root libertarian and anti-tax, not a wide portmanteau term for the whole right of the GOP staffed by less libertarian and more opportunistic Sarah Palin types.

Rick Santorum, a Senator from Pennsylvania first elected in 1994 but defeated in a landslide by Bob Casey Jr. in 2006, formally entered the contest back in June and had long been a potential contender. Santorum is well known for his social conservative positions most notably his vocal opposition to gay marriage. His name is well-known, especially in liberal circles, in part because Dan Savage turned his last name into a sexual neologism which would make people throw up. But he was little known outside those circles, and despite basically living in Iowa since Day 1, had a hard time making any headway until very late in the race. His strategy paid off late, as he surged in Iowa first outside the 3-5% range (around Christmas) and then into double digits in the final days of 2011. Appealing to the same type of socially conservative, often evangelical Christian, voter who had won Iowa for Mike Huckabee in 2008, he became Iowa’s top “anti-Romney” conservative contender and picked up votes from Gingrich, Bachmann and perhaps even Ron Paul. His emergence stopped Rick Perry’s mid/late December “mini-surge” in Iowa, which had seen Perry inch back up to 12% to the point where some had considered that his candidacy might re-appear on the forefront of the scene.

The final main contender in the race is Jon Huntsman, former Governor of Utah (2005-2009) and Obama’s ambassador to China (2009-2011). Huntsman is the most ‘liberal’ candidate in the race, noted for his far more liberal positions than the rest on social or environmental questions. He has a strong record as governor of Utah, and has strong moderate credentials which might appeal to the small minority of liberal Republicans who might find Romney too conservative or more likely too ideologically opportunistic for their tastes. Unsurprisingly, Huntsman totally ignored Iowa and has instead focused his campaign entirely around New Hampshire, whose open primary and more moderate electorate in general favours Huntsman. While potentially a strong candidate against Obama, Huntsman is too liberal for the current GOP electorate to go anywhere outside of New England.

Iowa

Iowa turned out to be very closely fought contest. Paul and Romney fought for the lead in the last stretch, as Gingrich collapsed and Santorum surged into high double-digits at the very last moment. Unfortunately, I missed the excitement of Iowa on January 3. Here is a late summary of what happened. Around 122 thousand Republicans showed up to caucus in Iowa, up a bit from the 119k of 2008.

Edited final results; January 19
Rick Santorum 24.56%
Mitt Romney 24.53%
Ron Paul 21.43%
Newt Gingrich 13.30%
Rick Perry 10.33%
Michele Bachmann 4.98%
Jon Huntsman 0.61%
Others 0.26%

Romney originally defeated Santorum by only 8 votes in the entire state, making these caucuses the closest in Iowa’s history. After a long-winded recount, the Iowa GOP finally certified Santorum as the winner by 34 votes. Measured against RCP’s final average, Paul performed smack where RCP’s average pegged him and Romney did about 1.5% better than predicted (Perry did about 1% worse, Gingrich did marginally less well than predicted). However, Santorum beat the average by about 8% and even beat his best polls (18%) by a full 6%. His surge most certainly came from fledgling Gingrich, Perry and especially Bachmann supporters – Bachmann was pegged at 6.8% by RCP, she won only 5%. For some reason, Huntsman had polled 2-4% in the last polls in Iowa despite ignoring the state by not even campaigning there. Reality hit and he won just 0.6%, and the bulk of the fake 2-4% Huntsman support likely explains Romney’s slight over-performance compared to RCP’s expectations.

Results of the Iowa caucuses (source: uselectionatlas)

Romney’s original win was a boost for his campaign and he certainly is the one candidate most likely to win the nomination. Romney has finally broken through his glass ceiling of 25% and has been able to gather more and more support from conservatives who have come around to seeing Romney as the pragmatic option of the candidate most able to defeat Obama, whom they certainly hate more than any of the GOP candidates when push comes to shove. However, Romney’s performance in Iowa is not particularly great: only a handful more votes than in 2008, and less percentage-wise than in 2008 (it is true, with a much narrower and stabilized field). Romney’s win in Iowa likely gave him a small momentum boost, but his entrance into likely-nominee territory was probably not caused directly by his victory in Iowa.

The main winner in Iowa was definitely Santorum, who as we saw defied all expectations and pulled out a delayed win. If Gingrich’s support erodes further, it is likely that conservatives interested more into an ideologically pure candidate rather than a candidate able to win in November will turn to Santorum as their final hope to block Romney. However, it is unlikely that Santorum will be ultimately able to do this, as he has little money and basically no organization outside Iowa. While Iowa gave Santorum a huge surge in national polls and in crucial conservative battlegrounds such as South Carolina (where he previously had minimal support), Santorum’s campaign was just too heavily focused on Iowa and basically absent outside of Iowa to be able to truly turn Iowa’s near-win into major momentum. Furthermore, Gingrich still has a surprisingly resilient core which is surprisingly hard to swing (seemingly) at this point. However, a moment will soon come – likely after South Carolina – where only one of Gingrich or Santorum will be in a position to fight. But it might be too late to fight at that point.

Michele Bachmann dropped out after her terrible showing, and her remaining support will probably flow to Santorum. Perry put up a face-saving performance in Iowa, but it was nowhere near the second or strong third he would have needed to save his trainwreck campaign and put him back into contention. He has not dropped out and seems to be banking it all on South Carolina (where he polls 5%), but Perry simply has no base in the contest and will be pushed out sooner or later, and his conservative support should flow to Santorum/Gingrich, assuming of course that Romney hasn’t simply run away with the nomination by that point.

The entrance polls provide an interesting base for analysis of the results in Iowa. Young voters from 17 to 29 heavily backed Paul (48%), who has a rock-solid cohort of young libertarian/online libertarian support. College graduates also backed Paul (25%) in large numbers. Paul and Romney’s support show an interesting trend related to income: the lower your income, the more likely you were to back Paul while the higher your income, the more likely you were to back Romney. Santorum’s support was highest (29%) with those earning $50-100k. The more interesting data is in terms of partisanship and ideology. Independents, 23% of the caucus electorate, gave Paul 43% and Romney 19% – while Santorum got only 13%. Republicans backed Santorum by a 2% margin (29-27) over Romney. In 2008, Iowa’s caucus electorate had been the most conservative in the country: eight in ten voters were conservatives. This year, 83% were conservative and only 17% were moderates or liberals. Conservatives backed Santorum 28-22 over Romney, with Paul pulling 18%. Those who described themselves as “very conservative” (47%) gave Santorum 35%. Those who were somewhat conservative backed Romney with 32%. The moderates gave Paul 40% and Romney 35%, but only 8% to Santorum.

64% of voters had a positive opinion of the Tea Party, and they backed Santorum with 29% against 19% apiece for Paul and Romney. Evangelical Christians, 57% of the electorate, heavily backed Santorum: 32% against 18% for Paul and 14% for Romney (tied with Gingrich and Perry). In terms of issues, the 13% who felt abortion was the most important issue supported Santorum, predictably, with 58%. The 34% who felt the deficit was the top issue backed Paul 28-21 over Romney. The 42% who said the ‘economy’ as a whole was the top issue backed Romney 33-20 over Paul.

31% of Iowan GOP voters felt that a candidate’s ability to defeat Obama was the most important quality. A sign of Romney’s support being in good part previously uneasy conservatives who pragmatically back him as the most electable option, those voters backed Romney with 48%. However, only 1% of the 25% who said being a ‘true conservative’ was the top quality and 11% of the 24% who said ‘strong moral character’ was the top quality backed Romney. Paul, interestingly, won 37% of those who said being a ‘true conservative’ was the top quality.

Rick Santorum’s typical voter seems to be middle-aged, middle-class but politically very conservative, Republican and a Tea Party supporter, as well as likely an Evangelical or born-again Christian. Santorum’s voter, it goes without saying, decided very late and voted for Santorum not because they feel he is the best candidate to beat Obama but because of his strong conservative and moral credentials.

Mitt Romney’s victory was propelled in large part by his support in urban Iowa: Romney won 29% in Polk County (Des Moines), 28.8% in Linn (Cedar Rapids), 34.1% in Johnson (Iowa City) and 33.5% in Scott (Davenport). He also won 33% in high-growth suburban Dallas County, which includes the bulk of Des Moines’ affluent high-growth Republican suburbs. Romney won 27.8% in Woodbury County (Sioux Falls), but Santorum won 33% there. Paul did well in Johnson County (30.7%) and won Black Hawk County (23.9%), two counties which include college towns (Iowa City and Cedar Falls). His best result, however, was in Jefferson County – which he had won in 2008 – and in which he took 48.6% this year. Jefferson County’s claim to fame, and in large part the base for Paul’s strong support, is being the home of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Transcendental Meditation movement, which has attracted many followers of the movement to the county. It has been a stronghold of the Natural Law Party: John Hagelin won 14.7% of the vote in Jefferson County in 2000.

Overall, Romney and Paul’s support was generally concentrated in eastern and central Iowa, which are the most urbanized regions of Iowa and often the most Democratic-leaning ones as well (it also has a larger number of Catholics, often Irish or German, and liberal Lutheran Scandinavians). However, Santorum won the bulk of western rural Iowa, often the most Protestant and conservative areas of the state. Besides Howard County (which Huckabee won in 2008), there seems to have been no decisive Catholic boost for Santorum in Catholic-majority counties, most of them located in eastern Iowa. Instead, Rick Santorum’s best performances – by far – came in the northwestern corner of Iowa (Lyon, Sioux, O’Brien Counties), which is Dutch Calvinist (Reformed Church, generally ultra-conservative) country and is Iowa’s most socially conservative (and Republican) part. Santorum took 61% in Lyon County, he broke 45% in Sioux and O’Brien Counties. Those had been the only three counties won by the social conservative standard-bearer Gary Bauer in the 2000. Rick Perry won two random rural conservative counties, one of which at least (Taylor) has a sizable Baptist population.

Compared to 2008, Romney seems to have shed support in the areas where he had done best in 2008 – while gaining or shedding slightly less votes in the areas (largely the ‘inland’ areas of rural Iowa) where he had not done as well in 2008.

New Hampshire

John McCain’s victory in New Hampshire in 2008 did not wrap up the nomination for him, but it gave him a huge momentum boost which was certainly indispensable in presenting him as the electable frontrunner and allowing him to rake in important victories in South Carolina and Florida later in the month. In that primary, McCain had defeated Mitt Romney, and while Romney’s defeat had not been a mortal blow it certainly did not help his campaign which had started focusing heavily on New Hampshire at Iowa’s expense following Huckabee’s surge. Since his 2008 defeat, Mitt Romney has basically made New Hampshire his de-facto home state and has been able to turn New Hampshire into a safe firewall for him which, no matter what happened, would give him a big win and a big momentum booster. Even during the FOTM surges of Bachmann, Perry, Cain and Gingrich, Romney’s big lead in the state was never put into jeopardy.

Similar to McCain in 2000 and 2008, Romney (in his 2012 incarnation) has a natural appeal to the state. New Hampshire’s primary is open, and moderate and liberal independents proved crucial to McCain’s victory in 2000 and 2008. And New Hampshire’s registered Republicans are otherwise some of the most moderate in the nation – in 2008, if I recall, New Hampshire’s primary electorate was the most moderate (nearly half were moderates or liberals). While Romney in his 2008 incarnation was a standard-fare non-evangelical conservative with appeal concentrated mostly to wealthy suburbanites, in his 2012 incarnation he takes up the 2008 McCain spot: an electable moderate. The 2012 Romney is thus pretty perfect for New Hampshire’s electorate. Its Republicans are largely native libertarians or older and newer Boston suburbanites who are both concerned far more about low taxes than about gays marrying or abortions. The economy is the main issue for them, and that is something on which Romney is generally strongest. Two other candidates also have a natural base in New Hampshire. Ron Paul, who won about 7% in the state in 2008, has a natural appeal to one of the most libertarian states in the country – the ‘Live Free or Die’ crowd, following the state’s motto. Jon Huntsman has basically been living in the state since he kicked off his campaign, and New Hampshire’s moderate electorate provides him with his strongest base.

As per the NYT, results with 100% reporting:

Mitt Romney 39.3%
Ron Paul 22.9%
Jon Huntsman 16.9%
Rick Santorum 9.4%
Newt Gingrich 9.4%
Rick Perry 0.7%
Others 1.5%

Unsurprisingly and with little suspense – if any – Romney won by a large margin (perhaps not a ‘landslide’) in his firewall state. His victory is historic in that it is rare for a GOP primary candidate to win both Iowa and New Hampshire, but given how certain his victory had been it is not quite a spectacular victory and it is unlikely to give him a huge momentum booster. In an ironic way, his uninspiring victory in Iowa was a bigger triumph than his big win in New Hampshire as Iowa was never the safe state that New Hampshire was. However, with two wins and no loses, Romney is still the big favourite to win the GOP nomination.

Results of the NH primary (source: uselectionatlas)

Ron Paul placed a very strong second, a great showing for him. New Hampshire is fertile ground for Paul, and he managed to exploit that to its fullest extent. However, Ron Paul simply cannot win the nomination: he is too despised by the establishment, be it pro-Romney or not. He also has a harder time than Santorum or Gingrich in being the final conservative alternative, as Paul has basically no appeal to the South (states like South Carolina, for example) which is likely where the last-ditch efforts of the GOP’s right will need to be concentrated in full strength if they are to stand a chance at stealing the nomination away from Romney who is beginning to run away with it.

Jon Huntsman won 17%, which is a good result for him and probably the best result he could realistically expect in these circumstances. It comes from months of being on the ground in the state and tailoring his message to the state, but in this regards it could also be considered as pretty underwhelming: basically living in the state for months to get 17%? Reminds me of Rudy Giuliani in Florida back in 2008. Huntsman is an electable general election candidate, but he is a totally unelectable GOP primary candidate. His showing in NH, certainly not bad, strikes me as something of a ‘woohoo!… but what now?’ type of thing. Huntsman has basically nowhere to go outside NH and New England. He is seemingly determined to keep fighting, atleast until SC, but he is deluding himself if he thinks he can go anywhere there. He might win 4% and be a nuisance to Romney, but there is simply no fertile ground for Huntsman to emerge as a strong primary candidate somehow.

Gingrich and Santorum, the remaining top conservative candidates, ended up all tied up with Santorum finally edging out Gingrich by 130 votes. Considering how Santorum had focused all his campaign on Iowa up until the caucuses there, it is a good result for him in New Hampshire and shows the effects of his post-Iowa bump – similar again to Huckabee’s post-Iowa bump which won him 11% in New Hampshire despite having been virtually absent from the state in the pre-primary season. But Santorum (and Gingrich for that matter) failed to score the knock-out blow to the other which could have sped up that candidate’s withdrawal and the chance for the unification of the conservative movement behind one candidate. Rick Perry, who ignored the state entirely – especially after the Iowan cold shower – won 0.7%  but did beat former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer (0.4%) who had focused a lot of his small campaign’s efforts on NH.

Exit polls again provide us with interesting bases for analysis. Unsurprisingly, Ron Paul rumped the ground with the 18-29 crowd (46%) but more interestingly did better with those with lower education than those with higher education, as well as low-income voters – the lowest income earners (under $30k) were the only category to back Paul over Romney, whose support once again increased as voter income increased – peaking at 52% with those earning $200k or more.

Independents were 47% of the electorate, and they split pretty evenly: 31% for Paul, 30% for Romney and 22% for Huntsman (Huntsman also won 41% with the 4% of Democratic voters who voted in the GOP primary). Romney dominated with Republicans, 49% against 15% for Paul. Conservatives made up only 53% of the primary electorate: overall they backed Romney with 42% against 19% for Paul, 15% for Santorum and 14% for Gingrich. Moderates, 47% of voters, gave Romney 38% against 26% for Paul and 24% for Huntsman. Romney even won the very conservative crowd (24%) with 29% against 25% for Santorum, and won 41% from those who support the Tea Party (51% of voters). The economy was the top issue for a full 61% of voters, and Romney owned the field there with 46% support against 20% for Paul. Among the 24% who felt the deficit was the top issue, Romney edged up Paul by 2 points. As in Iowa, finally, most of Romney’s support came from voters who judged candidates first on their ability to beat Obama, not conservative principles (35% of the electorate). Romney’s traditional voter seems to be wealthy, more optimistic about their personal economic situation, cares more about the economy than the deficit in general, is a somewhat generic centre-right Republican and supports Romney more because of his personal qualities and his ability to beat Obama than because of anything else.

Looking at a geographic analysis, complemented by the NYT’s interactive map of results by town, Romney’s base forms a very cohesive and homogeneous bloc concentrated along the coast and the state line with Massachusetts (Rockingham and Hillsborough Counties). These counties, which concentrate the bulk of NH’s Republicans and contribute to its purple state status (out of whack with solidly blue Vermont, Massachusetts and Maine) are basically affluent conservative exurbs of Boston whose residents are either old or new Boston commuters who live in New Hampshire for reasons often related to tax rate differences between the two states. Needless to say, affluent conservative exurbanites who care a lot about taxes (and not much about gays or abortions) are core Romney voters, both in 2008 and 2012. Romney actually improved the most vis-a-vis 2008 in these areas, but on a pure geographic basis he also somewhat extended his support into more rural, sometimes less conservative parts of New Hampshire. But it was Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman who found the most support in more liberal parts of western New Hampshire, closer to Vermont in terms of politics. Besides leaning Democratic in general elections, they also have lots of independents and a fair number of New England college towns. Huntsman won Hanover, a major college town and won 23% in Kenne. However, it is somewhat surprising that Paul did not perform better in Kenne and Hanover. His support was heavy in liberal Grafton and Cheshire Counties, but heaviest in the North Country (Coos County), which is more conservative (though leans Democratic, because of its French-Catholic population and working-class traditions) and whose GOP primary electorate seems more conservative (Huckabee did best there, and Gingrich and Santorum both won double-digits) than the rest of the state but also has a strong libertarian lean attributed to its geographic isolation in the White Mountains. Paul actually won Coos County with some 30% of the vote against 28% for Romney.

Looking Ahead

The next primary contest will be on January 21 in South Carolina. South Carolina will likely be the decisive battleground, and once again it is likely that it could make or brake the nominee. In 2000, McCain’s defeat in the bloody contest at the hands of Governor Bush had sealed his fate. In 2008, McCain’s narrow victory over Mike Huckabee had not sealed the deal just then but it certainly put McCain on a winning spree which would result in his eventual nomination. In Republican contests, South Carolina appears to be a much better determinant of the winner than either Iowa or New Hampshire.

South Carolina is a Southern conservative state with a large part of the electorate (60% in 2008) being Evangelical or born-again Christians, meaning that the primary electorate is predictably rather conservative (69% in 2008). This year’s contest might be different in the presence of an Evangelical Southerner, but in the lack thereof it is far more open. South Carolina is a test of any Republican candidate’s ability to appeal to the party’s increasingly powerful and important Southern religious base.

Romney is making minor inroads with conservatives because of his ability to win in November, but his performance in Iowa – especially with the conservatives in the caucus attenders there – was not particularly strong and there remains a lot of unease among conservatives about Romney. Romney will be looking for the knockout punch in South Carolina. If he wins such a conservative state, it will likely come close to sealing the deal and render the final efforts of the anti-Romneys futile. He would then win Florida in a landslide and pretty much end the race right then and there. At the same time, the conservative anti-Romneys (Gingrich, Santorum, Perry; Paul is in a different category and can be expected to fight even if Romney has the nomination) all know that South Carolina is their last chance to derail the Romney train. Which entails a bloody contest. Gingrich will need to win South Carolina to remain in the race. If he wins South Carolina, he likely knocks out Santorum (and Perry) and stands a slightly better chance at beating Romney in a contest which would probably become a two-man race between him and Romney with Paul probably sidelined. However, Santorum would probably be the strongest candidate in such a two-man matchup against Romney. Santorum also needs to win or at least place something like an extremely close second behind Romney to stand any chance in future contests. Chances are Perry will drop out after getting creamed.

The current RCP average in SC gives Romney a 9.3% lead over Gingrich (29.3% vs. 20%, Santorum at 19%). But a recent poll by Insider Advantage had the gap between the two down to only 2 points in Romney’s favour with Santorum at 14% and Perry (5%) trailing Huntsman (7%) and Paul (13%). Gingrich, despite his paltry showings in the first two races, seems to have a Southern advantage in the state (and an organizational/financial one as well) which has helped him stay strong and weather the seemingly short-lived Santorum surge. It seems as if the contest will come down to Gingrich vs. Romney, with Gingrich ready to inject large amounts of cash into a bloody fight with Romney. The favoured line of attack against Romney by Gingrich and others (Perry especially) seems to be a populist one: attacking Romney on his business past and shady investments at Bain Capital. Given the state and the nature of this year’s GOP electorate, this could prove to be a very fertile ground to attack Romney on.

France 2012: PS open primaries (runoff)

The second round of left-wing open primary elections (primaires citoyennes) were held in France on October 16, 2011. These primaries will nominate the candidate of the opposition Socialist Party (PS) and its small ally, the Left Radicals (PRG) for the 2012 presidential elections. All French citizens were eligible to vote provided they pay a symbolic minimum fee of €1 and sign a declaration of vague left-wing values. I had talked about the candidates in a preview post and covered all the results of the first round here.

At the outset of the first round, the frontrunner of the campaign, former party boss François Hollande had come out ahead with 39.2% ahead of 30.4% for Martine Aubry, his main rival and current party boss. Hollande’s showing had been a bit weaker than originally expected, and Aubry’s performance was conversely better than expected. The main surprise of the first round came from the strong showing of Arnaud Montebourg (17.2%), the young standard-bearer of the party’s left and ‘deglobalization’. The party’s 2007 candidate, Ségolène Royal, won only 7% while the young standard-bearer of the party’s right, Manuel Valls, won 5.6%. PRG boss Jean-Michel Baylet won only 0.6%. Aubry’s hopes for the surprisingly open runoff rested on the transfer of Montebourg’s left-wing voters to her candidacy, more left-wing than Hollande’s consensual centre-left candidacy. Support from new voters and a good majority of Royal’s equally left-wing voters was also necessary. However, despite a very aggressive offensive against Hollande from the left (Hollande as ‘inconsistent’, ‘flip-floppy’, ‘unclear-wishy-washy’, ‘the system’s candidate’ or even ‘right-wing’), Aubry’s campaign failed. Royal, surprisingly, endorsed her ex (following the logical endorsements of the centrists Valls and Baylet). Then Arnaud Montebourg, on a personal level, endorsed Hollande, despite his ideas being generally closer to those of Aubry rather than those Hollande. Following these pretty crippling blows, Aubry needed two things to win: that Royal and Montebourg’s voters reject in large numbers the endorsement of their candidate and vote for Aubry instead, and that the runoff sees a major spike in turnout through the heavy participation of non-PS left-wingers (Greens, Communists, far-left) which favoured Aubry more than Hollande. A tall order, but not seen as impossible. Despite Hollande’s big momentum during the entre deux tours, almost all observers predicted a fairly close runoff though with Hollande favoured.

Turnout was, logically, up from the first round. With 9407/9425 polls confirmed (the rest were likely cancelled) 2,860,157 voters turned out, which is 6.6% of registered voters in France (2010 numbers, the same warning applies concerning this data as in round one). This up nearly 199k from the first round, a 7.5% increase. The metropolitan department with the biggest increase was Haute-Corse (+26.85%) followed by Corrèze (+18.77%). The Nord, Pas-de-Calais, Seine-Maritime, Haute-Loire and Pyrénées-Atlantiques also saw turnout increase by over 15%. Only Saône-et-Loire (-5.53%) and Tarn-et-Garonne (-0.22%) saw turnout drop.

François Hollande 56.57%
Martine Aubry 43.43%

In the end it wasn’t even close. Hollande, after underperforming in the first round, overperformed most polls in the runoff. While Hollande’s victory was pretty likely, nobody really thought that he’d be able to win by such a big margin – despite the big momentum going his way with the endorsements or personal support of all other four first round candidates.

Turnout increased by just about the right amount for Hollande – a more significant boost in turnout, which would likely have come from the non-PS left, would have been more likely to benefit Aubry. As I had hypothesized following the first round, a good number of potential Hollande voters seemed to have opted out of the first round because he was the big favourite, but they certainly turned out for the runoff. Then his undeniable big mo’ had a rather important effect. It might have pushed wavering voters to his side, and it also could have even taken a few first round Aubry voters who wanted to vote for the winner and guarantee him a large majority.

The most surprising aspect of the vote is also that those who had voted for the other four candidates in the first round followed the endorsements or opinions of their candidate rather loyally. In the case of Valls and Baylet voters, this is not surprising. But more surprising is the case of Royal voters. I had thought they would be more likely to abstain in very large numbers, and a good number probably did – turnout increased by less than the national average (+7.5%) in her Poitou-Charentes base (15-18% for her in the first round), meaning that a good number of her voters didn’t turn out but this was compensated by new voters. But those of her voters who did vote seem to have gone to Hollande by a rather significant margin. Aubry needed those Royal voters to win, and given the likely proximity of Royal voters with the party’s left, it wasn’t a pipe dream. But the numbers, especially in Poitou-Charentes where Hollande beat Aubry by over 30% in all four departments, show that her voters probably went in bigger numbers to Hollande rather than Aubry. In her native Deux-Sèvres, where she had won 18% in the first round, Hollande won 72.2% – one of his biggest wins outside his Limousin stronghold. In Melle, Royal’s home base where she had won 32% in the first round, Hollande won 77.1%. The Poitou-Charentes perhaps isn’t the best of examples: a lot of Royal’s vote here was probably native-girl rather than any ideological proximity to her, and the Poitou-Charentes, like the inner west or Brittany fits the profile of Hollande’s locales: provincial and politically moderate. But it is hard to conduct a good study, given that outsider her home turf, her results were uniformly low to the point where it’s hard to say if the runoff results were influenced by her voters.

Equally surprising was the case of Montebourg’s voters, who were very much the ‘kingmakers’ of the runoff and a crucial block for Aubry to win if she was to win. First off, a good number of them probably did not turn out. Some wavering voters (perhaps some FN voters) voted for Montebourg as a pure ideological or protest vote, and had no affinity for either Hollande or Aubry (in fact, they probably saw them as one and the same). Others were traditional PS voters, but very much on the party’s eurosceptic left and did not vote for either Hollande or Aubry (broadly similar ideologically, especially on Europe or such things). Turnout dropped by 5.5% in his native Saône-et-Loire (56% for him in the first round), which is a pretty huge number considering that turnout overall increased by some 7% in the whole of France. But a lot of his voters did turn out, and they rather surprisingly seem to have followed their candidate’s personal endorsement of Hollande rather loyally – though overall the split might have favoured Aubry by a hair (hard to say). Hollande won Saône-et-Loire by a bigger margin than he won nationally, taking 59.6%. In Montret, where Montebourg had won 97% (and Hollande 3%), Hollande won 69% (turnout dropped from 118 to 106). In Montebourg’s Frangy-en-Bresse bastion, where he had won 85%, Hollande won 61%. Even if Montebourg’s voters, overall, might have favoured Aubry by a hair, it is the very fact that Hollande – the ‘centrist’, ‘flip-flopper’ and ‘soft left’ candidate – could take so much Montebourg voters, voters who voted for the candidate farthest to the left and the proponent of ‘deglobalization’. Though some Montebourg voters expressed anger at Montebourg’s surprising personal endorsement of Hollande (the type of Montebourg voter who would not turn out), a surprisingly large amount of them opted for Hollande despite all of Aubry’s attacks on Hollande from the left. Montebourg himself said that he endorsed Hollande primarily because he came out ahead on October 9 and would have endorsed Aubry if she had come out ahead (in other words, he wants a cabinet position), this feeling of “unite around the favourite” seems to have been shared by a large number of left-wing voters. In the end, more than any questions over Hollande’s socialist pedigree, a lot of undecided or on-the-fence voters voted out of a desire to defeat Sarkozy, which Hollande is widely seen as the most capable of doing.

Aubry also played her runoff campaign very badly. The rapid string of endorsements from Valls, Baylet and particularly Royal didn’t help her, but she had the momentum on her side coming out of October 9 and she allowed herself to completely lost that. True, some of it wasn’t her fault, but she probably hurt her cause more than helped her cause when, starting during the Wednesday debate, she turned to a chaotic, aggressive, left-wing and frankly desperate tone against Hollande. It was hard to evaluate from a neutral perspective how her attacks on Hollande as being “the soft left”, or generally a centrist wishy-washy flip-flopper of questionable left-wing pedigree would help her. She did attack Hollande on his weak-point (that of being too centrist and ideologically unclear), but she did so in an increasingly desperate and ‘wtf’ way. She went off the deep end when she started calling Hollande “the candidate of the system”, which is a pretty amusing thing for the incumbent party boss backed by the party old guard to say. Her poor showing shows that she did not help her case with her attacks on Hollande.

Although the UMP, which resorts every day to more and more awful strawman arguments, would like to make you think that this shows an awfully divided party because “obviously Hollande should have won with 70%” (arguments that make psephologists cry); this is a good result for the party itself. If the race had been close, like Reims in 2008, then there would have been chaos and the personal feuds would have resisted and played out. Instead, such a definite victory is a big boost for Hollande. It gives him a big legitimacy boost and makes the continuation of major feuds unlikely. The Aubry camp certainly isn’t too enthused about the result, but some key Aubry supporters like Fabius have already made their moves to cozy up with Hollande.

One of the things which had very much crippled Royal’s campaign in 2006-2007 despite her landslide closed primary victory was the division of the party between her campaign, led by Royal and her lieutenants; and a rather hostile party establishment and old guard which barely raised a finger for her. Certainly Royal was and remains a very polarizing person within PS circles, and unlike Hollande has a lot of enemies. And the 2006 primary had left its wounds on the party. The old guard came out to help Royal only late in the campaign, and did so with little enthusiasm. While the Aubry camp might be gloomy and hardly enthused about their rival’s victory (and there are clear scars), Hollande has so far handled his victory better than Royal did in 2006. Right after he won, he staged a very powerful and symbolic victory celebration alongside Valls, Royal but also Aubry and Fabius. The danger for him and the PS remains a division of the party between the campaign and the party, especially given how the party apparatus is led by one Martine Aubry.

Geographic analysis

Those who hoped for a ‘bluer’ map than that of the first round will be pretty disappointed. Hollande won all departments which had voted for him on October 9, except for the Somme which went to Aubry by a handful of votes. He also picked up St. Pierre et Miquelon, which Baylet had amusingly won. The patterns of the runoff are broadly similar to those of the first round (well, obviously). The map clearly shows Hollande’s solid ‘provincial’ or rural implantation. His support ripples out from his Correzian bastion, which gave Hollande an “African-like” 94%, and extends into the rest of the Limousin and Massif Central to give his map a distinctively chiraquian-pompidolian flair. But he also won strong support in the rest of the left-leaning and rural departments of the old Radical southwest, and polled remarkably well in Royal’s Poitou-Charentais base (not all surprisingly: as I said above, this is a politically moderate region). He also did well in the bulk of Auvergne, the Languedoc-Roussillon (perhaps a frêchiste vote for Hollande against Aubry, who had gone on a crusade against the frêchiste feds of the region) and generally in rural Champagne, Touraine, Berry, Orléanais, Lorraine and even a good part of Bourgogne.

Only the more urbanized and Greenish departments of the Rhône-Alpes, PACA, Ile-de-France and surprisingly Alsace are a bit weaker for him, in general. His support was lowest in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais, the political home base of Martine Aubry and industrialized Picardy and Haute-Normandie (the latter of which is the political home base of Laurent Fabius).

In the first round, I had noted a rather stark urban-rural divide between Aubry and Hollande, with Aubry being the urban candidate against the ‘rural’ Hollande. The same pattern is replicated in the runoff, though not as pronounced. The gap between Aubry and Hollande in Paris, which Aubry won as in the first round, was smaller than in the first round. Lyon seems to have voted for Hollande, and Strasbourg went to Aubry by only 54 votes. I haven’t found data for Toulouse, Rouen or Metz. The addition of Valls’ very urban first round 6% perhaps played a role here, as did increased turnout. The map in urban areas such as Paris, Lyon and Marseille retain a bourgeois-for-Hollande and poorer people-for-Aubry pattern, though here again it is less pronounced – Hollande won the very left-wing, diverse and low-income 13th in Paris.

Turnout increased the most in the bases of both candidates: both Corrèze and the Nord had turnout up by 15%. Aubryst Pas-de-Calais and Seine-Maritime also had similarly large increases in turnout. As aforementioned, turnout dropped significantly only in Montebourg’s Saône-et-Loire but also, interestingly, by a tiny amount in Baylet’s Tarn-et-Garonne. Probably a handful of PRG voters with little interest in the PS.

Conclusions: Past and Future

4%. That is what Hollande was polling one year ago. Though he rarely trailed in the polls following DSK’s arrest, Hollande did indeed come back from far. When Hollande left the party’s leadership in 2008, he was widely judged as a poor leader, the memories of the 2002 and 2007 presidential defeats fresh in mind. His leadership had been criticized for being too conciliatory and soft: making no enemies, but making no friends. Outside a close circle of supporters (Le Foll, Sapin, Vallini, Le Roux etc), Hollande went through a traversée du désert (a trough) which lasted pretty much until late 2010 or even early 2011. But slowly, Hollande fought back and was determined to win. His reelection as president of the general council of Corrèze in March boosted his profile and he rode on a little wave of momentum to announce his candidacy right after the cantonal elections. Unlike Aubry’s campaign, his was well managed and always at the forefront of events. Aubry seemed to have gone on vacation right after announcing her candidacy in the summer. At first, when DSK was still the prospective favourite, he was slowly rising on a profile of “normal” (and ‘provincial’) president – as opposed to the flashy international IMF-lifestyle of the former IMF director. When DSK was arrested, he surged into the lead and would (by large) only grow his lead as the weeks went. He took a lot of DSK’s potential support – moderate voters in the party’s reformist social democratic wing. His “normal” president stature and image was a serious boost, especially in presenting him as the candidate who was most able to beat Sarkozy (a vote-determinant not to be downplayed), but also against the more ‘elitist’/’system’ Aubry. His ability to stick his ground in the trick runoff campaign pitted against a powerful left flank (Montebourg) raised his credibility in the eyes of the wider public. Some might have thought that his ‘general election’ type of campaign wasn’t appropriate to a primary, but it actually worked out well for him. Set against Aubry’s boring, uninspiring and mismanaged campaign it isn’t a wonder, in the end, that he won like he finally did. To draw a link with American politics, Aubry was a bit the “Clinton” of the contest – longtime politico, apparatus insider support, experienced rough-and-tumble politician and in a position to win easily through their control of the party’s insider network and structures (but who finally led a poor campaign). Hollande, though most certainly not a political newbie or with low name recognition, was a bit the “Obama” of the contest – a bit on the outsides of the current structures, relatively inexperienced (Hollande never served in cabinet), starting out very low in polls but leading an innovative and organized campaign and playing on his strength with the ‘grassroots’ and the broader electorate.

The top echelon of the 2012 field is thus set: Nicolas Sarkozy, François Hollande and Marine Le Pen. Hollande is a strong candidate and a threat to Sarkozy. Of the two candidates, he was the strongest against Sarkozy. The blog Sondages 2012, run by a friend of mine, which has a wonderful rolling average of all polling pegged Hollande at 30.4% on October 10 and Aubry at 26.8%. Sarkozy was at 22.7% against Hollande and 23.3% against Aubry. One of Hollande’s main strength, which helped him in this campaign, is his ability to attract centrist and even centre-right voters to his fold. His conciliatory, moderate, reformist social democratic image gives him a stronger base with those voters. The main losers of Hollande’s nomination are the ‘centrist’ candidates: Bayrou, Villepin and Borloo before he dropped out. Bayrou, Villepin and Borloo all performed better in the Aubry scenarios than in the Hollande scenarios. Conversely, those who might stand to gain something out of Hollande’s nomination are those further to the left: Eva Joly (EELV) and especially Jean-Luc Mélenchon (FG). Hollande’s left flank is weaker than Aubry’s, but if he can position Montebourg well, he could cover his left flank and prevent losing some of the more left-wing PS voters to the Greens or Left Front. Hollande, however, does have his weaknesses. His relative inexperience in governance could be used against him, and Sarkozy will probably do so by running on his experience in foreign affairs and on the debt crisis issue. He could use a theme similar to Stephen Harper’s successful “in times of economic trouble, it’s me or chaos” line. His support seems to be based quite a lot on his “normal” president image or similar ‘image’ things rather than deep ideological affiliation, and as such is probably less solid. Sarkozy is a very strong candidate too, and should certainly not be taken for dead. But, with approvals at 35% and an anemic 22% in first round polls and a terrible 40-42% in the runoff, he is certainly in worse shape than any incumbent president of the Fifth Republic were one year out from reelection.

France 2012: PS open primaries 2011 (first round)

The first round of left-wing open primary elections (primaires citoyennes) were held in France on October 9, 2011. These primaries will nominate the candidate of the opposition Socialist Party (PS) and its small ally, the Left Radicals (PRG) for the 2012 presidential elections. All French citizens were eligible to vote provided they pay a symbolic minimum fee of €1 and sign a declaration of vague left-wing values. These ambitious primaries, the first on such a large scale in France, were truly an historic first for the PS and for French politics in general. I had talked about the primaries and the six candidates in a preview post ahead of the first round.

The first round of the primaries were pretty much a success. 2,661,284 voters came out to vote. Using data from the 2010 regional elections (slightly inaccurate as these primaries also included New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon and French citizens abroad as well as under-18 members of the PS or PRG’s youth wings), roughly 6.1% of registered voters (2010 numbers) came out to vote. For comparison’s sake, the PS’ candidate in the 2007 runoff against President Nicolas Sarkozy had won nearly 16.8 million votes. In the 2009 European elections, in which the PS hit rock-bottom and won only its core voters, its lists had received 2.8 million votes. It is certainly not record-shattering turnout, but it is a good turnout for the PS. For another comparison, in the closed primaries of 2006, only 179,412 Socialists had voted and in the 2008 election of the PS’ First-Secretary, 232,912 members were registered to vote. The PS said that it had expected 1-2 million voters, so 2.7 million voters is a good figure. And it also brings in €3 million or so… never a bad thing for any political party.

The results were as follows:

François Hollande 39.17%
Martine Aubry 30.42%
Arnaud Montebourg 17.19%
Ségolène Royal 6.95%
Manuel Valls 5.63%
Jean-Michel Baylet (PRG) 0.64%

Hollande, as the polls had predicted, came out comfortably ahead of his main rival, party boss Martine Aubry in the first round. The polls had not messed up, he was the true frontrunner. However, Hollande did not do as well as the polls had predicted, though not in the end by a large margin. His result, 39.2%, is strong but it is under the symbolic ‘40% line’ which most polls had predicted he would cross. He has an 8.75% margin over Aubry, which is also slightly less than what the polls had given him, and more importantly it is under the symbolic 10% margin which would have maintained his solid advantage. It is certainly not a defeat or even a major setback for his candidacy, but undoubtedly the slight underperformance on October 9 has broken Hollande’s strong momentum somewhat and changed the dynamics of the runoff. Hollande likely suffered from a demobilization of his potential electorate, which decided not to bother voting given how certain his victory seemed to them on the eve of the vote. The polls in general also underestimated the size of the gauche de la gauche electorate in the broader primary electorate, with the higher than expected turnout of the party’s left-wing playing against Hollande, who was the more centrist of the main candidates.

Martine Aubry won 30.4%, a showing which is a few points better than what polls had given her though not by any means a shocking overperformance. Yet it is for her and her supporters a strong result and, coupled with the smaller than expected gap between her and Hollande (8.75%), will revitalize them ahead of the runoff which is very open-ended. Her strong showing undeniably boosted her supporters’ morale. One of Aubry’s main advantages, especially in the circumstances of this runoff is that she has made herself the standard bearer of the “true left” of sorts, that is a clearer and more offensive left. Hollande’s main weakness is his centrist, feel-good image which makes him appear as a weak-willed, opportunistic and flip-flopping candidate to the party’s left.

Certainly the biggest surprise of this primary and one of the factors which boosts Aubry is the strong showing of Arnaud Montebourg, the young maverick figure of the PS’ left and the vocal proponent of démondialisation. Montebourg’s late surge into third place had been picked up by most pollsters, but the remaining undecideds and late-deciders broke heavily in his favour, meaning that pollsters all underestimated his performance by at least 3-4%. He won 17.2%, a very strong third and a result which, if played correctly, promises Montebourg a bright political future. Montebourg was clearly the only candidate who gained something from the three debates and the only candidate for whom the ‘official campaign’ had a major impact on his numbers (because he led what was probably the best campaign of the 6). Montebourg’s left-wing rhetoric of deglobalization, European protectionism, reindustrialization, institutional shakeup and fighting corruption struck a chord with the gauche de la gauche, which turned out in big numbers on October 9. His left-wing rhetoric appealed to those voters, who, in these times of economic crisis, found his radical leftism quite attractive and saw in him a refreshing change. Ségolène Royal’s campaign was all about appealing to those indignés, but in contrast to Montebourg’s well orchestrated campaign, hers was chaotic, overly populist and sectarian. Montebourg had a clear, well-managed campaign and he was able to defend his ideas with intelligence and charisma – which Royal failed to do.

Ségolène Royal was the major loser of the primaries. For the PS’ 2007 candidate, who had won the 2006 closed primaries in a landslide and had come within 102 votes of winning the party’s leadership in 2008, her phenomenal downfall is very bitter indeed. She had styled herself as the candidate of the indignés, but on this ground she found herself at a loss against Montebourg’s more credible and more reasonable discourse. Her chaotic, erratic and populist discourse of jumbled-up vote-winning goodies and random ideas did not convince. With 7% support she did very poorly, worst in fact than predicted by most pollsters – ironically enough in fact, having gone on a bizarre crusade against the pollsters when they started showing bad numbers for her.

Manuel Valls, with 5.6%, did about as well as a candidate on the PS’ right could expect. There is simply not a large base within the French left for a candidate who campaigns vocally for fiscal orthodoxy, against the 35-hours and against welfare-leeches. The story is a similar one for Jean-Michel Baylet, the sole non-PS candidate in these open primaries, who could not expect to do much better in a primary which was effectively a PS primary. His 0.6% are a paltry showing, but for Baylet, what counted more than the result was just participating to increase his party’s notability and remind the PS that he is a very loyal ally who expects to receive his fair share in upcoming negotiations for legislative seats for 2012.

Geographical analysis

What is fascinating about the map of this primary is how homogeneous Hollande’s support was, and also how the resemblances with internal PS party shenanigans are sparse. True, the map is certainly that of a left-wing primary, as Aubry’s isolated strongholds reveal. But it is quite different from the maps of internal PS party business, elections in which the support of the local federation’s bigwig will sway the whole federation your way. Some departments, like the Nord or Seine-Maritime certainly followed the orientation of the local federation boss. But in a lot of other cases, the endorsement of the local bigwig didn’t have much effect: Aubry lost the Bouches-du-Rhône despite Guérini’s support, Hollande lost in Lyon despite Collomb’s support and Montebourg lost in Guyana despite Taubira’s support. Right off the bat, this makes these primaries much, much cleaner and harder to rig.

Hollande received very homogeneous support throughout France, which is a strength for his candidacy. His strong base of support with provincial elected officials and local notables surely helped, but above all his support shows that he was the candidate of choice for the middle-classes (la France moyenne), employees or small businessmen. He is the candidate of rural France, the small and mid-sized towns and the  Hollande performed best, obviously, in his local stronghold of Corrèze where he received 86% of the votes, a local base which overflowed in a Chiraquian-Pompidolian manner into Haute-Vienne, Creuse, Cantal or Lozère. Hollande also performed well in regions such as the inner west or Brittany, politically moderate regions where the PS has gained in strength recently. While Hollande performed strongly in the quiet suburbs surrounding most major cities, he was not the favourite of urban voters and he lost most or performed comparatively weakly in most of France’s largest cities. Within cities, Hollande’s support was highest in the most affluent (and often most right-wing) neighborhoods. As the Paris inset of the main map shows, Hollande’s strength in Paris was concentrated in the city’s affluent west-end. A similar pattern can be seen in Lyon or Marseille. This is not to say that Hollande was purely the candidate of the affluent, in fact one of Hollande’s main strength here is his proven ability to appeal to a heterogeneous base to build relatively homogeneous levels of support throughout France. Not too surprising, perhaps, given Hollande’s conciliatory and moderate “normal president” image.

In contrast to Hollande’s homogeneous map, one of Aubry’s weaknesses as evidenced by her map is the relative confinement of her support to small bastions. Aubry won only four departments: the Nord, Pas-de-Calais, Seine-Maritime and Paris. In her native Nord, she won 54% and her local favourite daughter base also extends into Pas-de-Calais. In the Seine-Maritime, the support of the historical local left-wing bigwig Laurent Fabius probably played a key role. In Paris, Bertrand Delanoë’s support was probably not without effect. In the Seine-Saint-Denis, which she lost by 1%, Claude Bartolone’s support was also probably not without effect. In general, Aubry convinced a young, urban, generally well-educated and ‘trendy’ electorate. In contrast to François, the candidate of small-towns and the province; Aubry was the candidate of the cities. Though often losing the department in which they are located in, Aubry won most of France’s major cities: Paris, Lyon, Lille, Strasbourg, Toulouse, Grenoble, Rouen or Metz (and came within 2 votes in Rennes). A breakdown of the vote in Paris, Lyon or Marseille shows that Aubry carried the more working-class (and left-wing) neighborhoods but also the more trendy and central bobo areas. In middle-class suburbia or in rural France, Aubry struggled far more. In more urban and in general more politically left-leaning areas (the old left-wing areas in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardie, for example), Aubry did better against Hollande. Her map shows a little Green effect: she performed strongly in regions where Greens do well: Ille-et-Vilaine, Loire-Atlantique, Savoie, Isère, urban areas and even Alsace (!). This is the only visible effect of non-PS voters on the primary map in a consistent fashion, as the maps show very little perceptible Communist or far-left influence.

Arnaud Montebourg’s map was also relatively evenly balanced, ignoring massive favourite-son voting in his Saône-et-Loire stronghold (56%). Unlike Aubry, his local support spills over into neighboring departments: he performed well above average in next-door Jura (nearly 30%), Ain, Côte-d’Or and Nièvre. In good part, Montebourg’s support was quite rural or small-townish, doing especially well in isolated and ‘forgotten’ departments such as Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (24%), Lot (21%), Lozère (19%), Drôme or Ardèche (22%). These rural departments have been hit hard by a decline in local public services, and there is a lot of anger in these ‘forgotten’ rural confines against Sarkozy and the UMP in general. In other parts, Montebourg’s support was reminiscent of FN support: Montebourg performed above average in traditional frontiste strongholds such as Vaucluse, Bouches-du-Rhône, Var or Alpes-Maritimes. Small town or low-income protectionist voters who may flirt with the FN in other elections, or perhaps – in the Bouches-du-Rhône particularly – a vote against local corruption? In urban or old industrial areas, Montebourg performed about average, and in urban areas his support was usually correlated quite closely to Aubry’s support.

Ségolène Royal did not even save face with her results. She won only 18% in her political base in the Deux-Sèvres, a distant second behind Hollande. Even in her own political stronghold, Melle (in Deux-Sèvres), she was 10% behind Hollande… even Jean-Michel Baylet won his hometown by a big margin. She polled best, with 15-18%, in the region she governs, Poitou-Charentes but did poorly outside there with homogenously low support throughout the rest of France. Royal was popular and had targeted low-income suburban neighborhoods, but even in those top targets for her campaign, she barely polled 10% – at best.

Manuel Valls polled 11% in Essonne and 10% in the Hauts-de-Seine, and won in his hometown of Evry. While some may have thought his political implantation in a commune populaire like Evry and his law-and-order rhetoric might have helped him in other difficult suburbs, he did poorly in those (5% in Seine-Saint-Denis). His support was heavily concentrated in affluent neighborhoods and municipalities. Like Hollande, he did best in posh west-side Paris (over 15% in the 7, 8 and 16th arrondissements) or in the wealthy parts of Lyon or Marseille. He polled 23% in Neuilly-sur-Seine, hometown of a certain Nicolas Sarkozy. Outside Ile-de-France, Valls’ map has a spookily close correlation with that of the FN in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Jean-Michel Baylet managed to win something. Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, with 39% or 106 out of 269 votes. Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon had elected a PRG deputy in 2007, who had backed Baylet in the primaries. In France, he polled best – 15% – in his native Tarn-et-Garonne where he is President of the General Council and Senator. He also won his hometown. But his result in Tarn-et-Garonne represents a full 11% of his national support, and it was one of his only two good showings, the other being the PRG stronghold of Haute-Corse where he won 14% (and more votes than in Paris!). His map, besides that, peaks at 2% support in the traditionally Radical departments of Lot and Hautes-Pyrénées or hardly impressive 1 percents in a lot of old Radical bases.

Predicting the unpredictable

What result for the runoff? The closer-than-expected margin in the first round between Hollande and Aubry will mean a closer-than-expected runoff. While Hollande probably remains the marginal favourite going into the runoff, his slight underperformance on October 9 has broken his momentum somewhat and given Aubry much more momentum then she had on October 8. Both Hollande and Aubry have things going for them, which makes predicting the final result rather perilous and meaning, in effect, that this race is very much open.

François Hollande’s main advantage is that he enters the runoff with a high floor. He can count on the support of at least two-thirds to three-fourths of Valls’ and Baylet’s voters (0.6% and 5.6%), which places his floor at roughly 46%. He has already received the endorsements of both Manuel Valls and Jean-Michel Baylet, both endorsements of low impact but important in that they give him a high floor. More surprisingly, he also received on Wednesday the surprisingly clear endorsement of Ségolène Royal, his ex. It is doubtful whether Royal’s endorsement will have much impact on the final result, given that her reduced electorate is largely composed of her die-hard fans and is rather left-leaning (and thus probably more towards Aubry than Hollande, all things being equal). But the endorsement of his ex is a nice momentum-booster for Hollande, showing him as the candidate most capable of rallying support from both sides of the playing field (Valls and Baylet on the right, Royal on the left).

The PS primary and the primary-related events of this week are all over the news in France, something which should increase turnout even more on October 16 where the motivation to turn out is even higher than last week. There are, in France, a good number of voters who only turn out in the runoff. It is hard to evaluate where these new voters will be coming from and how they will break between Hollande and Aubry. If it is true that some of Hollande’s potential voters abstained on October 9 because his victory was looking very likely, then some of those voters should logically come out to vote on October 16. Higher turnout from centrists or from PS sympathizers should help Hollande, while higher turnout from the radical left or the Greens should help Aubry. Aubry, in general, basically needs any new voters to prefer her over Hollande. Hollande is not as reliant on the support of new voters, and could win the primary while losing these new voters.

Martine Aubry’s main advantage is that her more left-wing positioning in the primary means that she is the most likely benefactor of Arnaud Montebourg’s support. Montebourg, very much a kingmaker, is unlikely to personally endorse any candidate. Though the maverick Montebourg had supported Aubry in Reims in 2008, the two have crossed swords on the issue of the primaries themselves (Montebourg being one of the earliest proponents of open American-like primaries) and most recently on the Guérini affair (Montebourg accusing Aubry of being soft on corruption within the PS). He has repeatedly called Hollande and Aubry two sides of the same coin. While some of his supporters from October 9 will likely not turn out in the runoff, most of his electorate will probably turn out a second time. This is where Aubry’s chances lie: she needs, absolutely needs, strong support from Montebourg’s voters to win the runoff. She appears to be the ‘natural’ choice for his voters. While they have their differences (Europe, corruption etc) she is more left-wing than Hollande and Montebourg’s voters probably harbour lingering doubts about Hollande’s left-wing values. They are more likely to see him as weak-willed, directionless and a flip-flopper. That is exactly why Aubry has been going after Hollande rather violently on these points.

In the final high-stakes TV debate held on Wednesday, Aubry very much targeted Montebourg’s voters by taking a more left-wing tone and attacking Hollande of being soft, weak-willed, a flip-flopper, incoherent or even ‘too rightist’ and ‘too system’. The debate was pretty much a sleep-inducing draw, with Hollande and Aubry both having their weaknesses and strengths and the ‘winner’ largely dependent on one’s perspective on the candidates. It is hard to evaluate what impact the debate will have, but I doubt it will have much impact. Aubry’s increasingly desperate tack to the left is clearly aimed at winning over Montebourg’s voters, and it is really hard to evaluate from my perspective whether or not her debate performance and her tougher and tougher attacks against Hollande will succeed in winning over Montebourg’s voters.

[last minute: Friday Oct. 14 >> Montebourg has announced his personal endorsement of Hollande. A very big blow to Aubry’s increasingly chaotic and desperate campaign, and a major boost for Hollande’s campaign, perhaps not as much in absolute vote terms but in terms of momentum and last-minute advantage. It remains to be seen whether or not Montebourg’s voters will vote like their guy in droves, but even if they don’t all vote like him, it remains a pretty crippling blow to Aubry. Her desperate and bizarre attempts to attract him has not work, but it might attract some of his voters. Hollande should be counted as the major favourite in this contest right now.]

Election Preview: France’s left-wing primaries 2011

Left-wing open primary elections (primaires citoyennes) will be held in France on October 9 and 16, 2011. These open primaries will nominate the candidate of the opposition Socialist Party (PS) and its small vassal, the Left Radicals (PRG), for the April 22 and May 6, 2012 presidential elections. These are the first open primaries on such an ambitious scale in France. In the past, in 1995 and 2006, the PS had nominated its candidate through closed primaries where only party members were eligible to vote. In these primaries, anybody can vote provided he/she pays a symbolic fee of €1 and signs a declaration of adherence to left-wing values (and is a registered, eligible voter). These primaries are not organized by the state or any public authorities, rather they are entirely organized by the party which must – especially in municipalities governed by the right – find its own voting locations often separate from traditional voting locations. These first open primaries were seen by the PS as a tool to overcome divisions, motivate voters by enabling them to participate (in the mode of the 2008 Democratic primaries in the US) and giving more legitimacy to the PS candidate in a crucial election for them like 2012.

Candidates needed to receive the endorsement of at least 5% of the PS’ parliamentarians, leadership, regional and general councillors in at least 10 departments and/or 4 regions and PS mayors in large cities in at least four regions. All left-wing parties were theoretically invited to primaries which are officially not PS primaries but rather open left-wing primaries, but only the PS and its tiny perennial ally, the PRG, participated. Candidacies needed to be deposited between June 28 and July 13, 2011. In the end, six candidates received sufficient endorsements to participate.

Up until May 15, the favourite for these primaries and the top-ranking potential candidate, then-IMF director Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK) was arrested in New York City on counts of sexual aggression in a hotel room. Strauss-Kahn was released on bail on July 1 and criminal charges against him were dropped on August 23 (and allowed to return to France), but in both cases it was either impossible or too late for him to return to France to announce his candidacy. In an interview upon his return to France, Strauss-Kahn more or less openly confirmed that he would have been candidate in these primaries. His de-facto withdrawal on May 15 totally changed the dynamics of the race and threw the field wide open. Up until then, it was widely assumed that DSK would run and that he would rather easily win the primaries. He was the runaway favourite and he was also, at that point, the early favourite in the presidential race against President Nicolas Sarkozy. With their frontrunner out of the race, the left needed to find another candidate. For many voters on the left, their main criteria in choosing a candidate will be his or her ability to defeat Nicolas Sarkozy in 2012.

In terms of policy, the PS itself has already adopted its program of sorts (most of it are general priorities) and candidates in the primaries (besides one) are tied to it. In terms of public rhetoric, all criticize Sarkozy’s economic policies and criticize banks for speculating on debt. All oppose the right’s tough immigration policies and are in favour of case-by-case regularization of illegals.

The Contenders

The top two contenders are François Hollande, president of the general council of Corrèze, deputy (MP) and former secretary-general of the PS; and Martine Aubry, Mayor of Lille and secretary-general of the PS since 2008. The other candidates are Ségolène Royal, 2007 candidate and the president of the regional council of Poitou-Charentes; Arnaud Montebourg, president of the general council of Saône-et-Loire and deputy; Manuel Valls, deputy and mayor of Evry; and Jean-Michel Baylet, senator, president of the general council of Tarn-et-Garonne and leader of the PRG.

François Hollande is the frontrunner and the favourite of the primaries. Hollande, who is 57, served as the party’s secretary-general between 1997 and 2008. He has been the deputy (MP) for Corrèze’s 1st constituency since 1997 (and before that between 1988 and 1993) and has been president of the general council of his department since 2008. He was mayor of Tulle between 2001 and 2008. A rarity among presidential candidates, he has never been a cabinet minister and, if elected, would be the first President of the Fifth Republic to never have served in any cabinet. Hollande’s tenure at the helm of the party between 1997 and 2008 has been criticized by some of his opponents, but in general it was rather successful: he won the 1999 and 2004 European elections, won a landslide in the 2004 regional and cantonal elections and saved face in the 2002 and 2007 legislative election. He was weakened by the defeat of the EU Constitution in the 2005 referendum, when his leadership backed a ‘yes’ vote against the will of part of the PS leaders and voters. In his leadership, he was perceived as generally weak-willed and with little drive, ambition or deep political talent.

Hollande announced his candidacy following his reelection as president of the general council in his department in March 2011, and overcame weak polling numbers to become DSK’s main rival in the primary field. Polls right before the DSK affair exploded on May 15 showed that Hollande had managed to significantly narrow the gap with DSK. Following his withdrawal, he surged to become the frontrunner in the field and has held the advantage in the field since then with the exception of late June and early July. He has a lead of at least ten points and oftentimes over 15 over his closest opponent, Martine Aubry.

Hollande’s success, which might surprise given his past image as a cute but ineffective gadfly, stems from his ability to incarnate himself as the “normal president” – first in contrast to the media-savvy world-traveling DSK and now in contrast to the bling-bling elitist Sarkozy. Shedding some weight, he is seen as a sincere, competent and ‘normal’ by voters. Even his lack of ministerial experience is now an asset when presenting himself to voters, as he is not as associated to “those corrupt career politicians” and those perennial cabinet ministers. Perhaps slightly amusing given his past at the helm of the PS for eleven years, he is also more or less the ‘grassroots’ candidate opposed to the candidate of the party hierarchy and leadership. He is popular with PS voters at the grassroots level, and his popularity is wider with those more likely to vote in the primaries: the older voters and the PS members (rather than all self-IDed left-wingers).

When Hollande was secretary-general, he was generally opposed from his left (Laurent Fabius, Henri Emmanuelli, Arnaud Montebourg) and generally aligned with the centrist/moderate ‘barons’. He can be seen as a reformist social democrat, not exactly on the party’s right-wing but certainly not on the party’s left. His main priorities in this campaign, policy-wise, are fiscal reform and his ‘contracts of generation’. His top fiscal measure is to merge the income tax with a social tax (CSG) to create a universal, progressive income tax paid by everybody in full equality. He is tougher than Aubry on debt reduction, and while he opposes the government’s proposed golden rule amendment, he proposes some tougher measures to reduce France’s public debt and promises to balance the books by a set date (2017). He has shown himself favourable to a regulated bank bailout if needed, on condition that the state enters the bank’s board of directors. His other main proposal is the controversial contrats de génération (contracts of generation) which is a plan to create 200,000 jobs for youths (and maintain them for seniors) through fiscal incentives for businesses. He has also proposed to re-hire over five years the 60-70k education positions abolished since 2007. He opposes the government’s policy of not replacing half of retiring public employees in education.

Polling shows that Hollande is the strongest PS candidate against Sarkozy, with 28-30% in the first round and a breezy victory in the runoff over Sarkozy with about 55% support. Of the primary candidates, Hollande is the candidate with the strongest ability to gather centrist, moderate and even centre-right voters in the first or second rounds. This might become even more important as the centre-right finds itself devoid of a candidate after Jean-Louis Borloo’s surprise withdrawal.

Hollande is backed by most of the ‘moderates’ within the party including Pierre Moscovici (a former strauss-kahnian) and a lot of equally moderate provincial or local barons such as Jean-Yves Le Drian, Alain Rousset,  François Patriat, Michel Sapin, André Vallini, Jean-Marc Ayrault, Gérard Collomb, François Rebsamen or Roland Ries. Some of them such as Collomb and Rebsamen had supported Royal in 2008 when she was more moderate, others had supported the flopped Delanoë motion then. His support, in general, both by the sections of the party elites and the left-wing base of voters, seems more provincial than Aubry’s support and also more populaire, that is, more popular with the unemployed  and employees, but also retirees (who are good voters in terms of turnout).

Martine Aubry is Hollande’s longshot rival and the First-Secretary of the PS since 2008 (temporarily replaced during the campaign by Harlem Désir). Aubry is the daughter of Jacques Delors, the former European commissioner and finance minister between 1981 and 1985. Delors, a moderate pro-European social democrat, had been the party’s favourite in the 1995 presidential election but he ended up not running. Aubry is, like Hollande and Royal, an énarque and a former public administrator. Her political career began when she became Minister of Labour, Employment and Professional Formation in the Cresson government in 1991. As the left won power in 1997, Aubry completed her political implantation in Lille (Nord) with her victory in a suburban constituency. In the Jospin government, she served as Minister of Labour and Solidarity until 2000. Her tenure in office is most famous for the 35-hour workweek, a controversial measure which has since associated Aubry with the party’s left though she is not a natural or traditional member of the party’s traditional left-wing. She was elected mayor of Lille in 2001, an office she has held since. However, she was defeated for reelection in her constituency in 2002 by a young right-winger. Her 2002 defeat made headlines when Aubry cried upon hearing the results.

Fresh from a landslide reelection in 2008, Aubry ran for the party’s leadership at the tumultuous Reims Congress. Though her motion finished third in the motions vote, narrowly behind Delanoë’s motion, she received support from most of Delanoë’s old guard base to run for the elected position of first-secretary. She defeated Royal by 102 votes in the runoff ballot, in an election marred by potential irregularities on both sides. Her leadership was feeble in 2009, especially after the disastrous European elections, but the PS victory in the 2010 and 2011 mid-term elections cemented her leadership and boosted her potential presidential candidacy.

Aubry announced her candidacy on June 28. She enjoyed a short-lived surge in support after her announcement, but this edge over Hollande soon dissipated and turned into a large deficit by the end of the summer. Aubry could have seized the advantage presented to her by her enviable position at the heart of the party, and, while holding the support of the party’s left and non-PS (PCF, Green and so forth) voters slowly moving to the centre. But Aubry is far more of a technocrat than a charismatic politician, and she is unable to convey warmth or energy. Thus her campaign has been poorly managed and overall has been boring and stale. Unlike Hollande, who can cultivate warmth with voters on the ground with talk of a “normal President”, Aubry cannot as she appears distant, cold and somewhat elitist. She is also seen much more as a “candidate by default” than as a candidate by conviction. She ran because she needed to do so after DSK’s arrest on May 15. DSK, in his record-breaking interview upon his return from the US declared that Aubry and him had indeed been party to a ‘pact’ in which Aubry had pledged not to run if DSK ran.

Aubry has usually been seen as more to the left of the party, and she is undoubtedly to Hollande’s left. The ideological differences between Hollande and Aubry are not wide, as in most PS infightings, the feud between Hollande and Aubry is personal rather than deeply ideological though the feud has pushed her to the left. Aubry also pledges to reduce France’s deficit to under 3% of the GDP by 2013 but unlike Hollande refuses to set a date for a balanced budget (Hollande has said 2017). Aubry wishes to drastically cut France’s many niches fiscales (tax loopholes or tax exemptions) which she estimates costs the state 50 billion euros. Opposed to Hollande’s contrats de génération she promises 300,000 new ‘future jobs’ over the course of the five-year term. On environmental issues, she is ‘greener’ than Hollande. While Hollande only wants to cut France’s dependence on nuclear energy from 75% to 50%, Aubry supports an eventual withdrawal from nuclear energy.

Aubry performs only a few points less than Hollande in polls and she would still defeat Sarkozy by a somewhat closer margin in a runoff today. She does not really have Hollande’s ability to win over centrist voters. In contrast, she is probably more popular than Hollande is with the wider left-wing

As party leader, Aubry is very much the establishment candidate, supported by those closest to the party’s incumbent leadership. Aubry has a very weak political base within the party, and in her 2008 election she depended very much on the support of Laurent Fabius’ far more influential faction (20% of the PS or so). Since then, she has also allied closely with the party’s left (most notably Benoît Hamon, the spokesperson of the PS who in Reims led the party’s left), the more left-leaning of the strauss-kahnians, a few moderates and some close allies of Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë. Her supporters include Fabius, Delanoë, Claude Bartolone (Fabius’ lieutenant),  Jean-Christophe Cambadélis (a close ally of DSK), Jack Lang, Henri Emmanuelli, Marie-Noëlle Lienemann and Jean-Paul Huchon.

Ségolène Royal was the PS’ 2007 standard bearer and fell 102 votes short of becoming first-secretary in 2008, but since then her fall from the top echelons of politics has been painful. She is at best a distant third now, and perhaps even fourth. Royal was Hollande’s life partner between the late 1970s and 2007, but since then relations between the two have been apparently very poor. Royal, always something of an oddball or maverick in terms of background and policies within the PS, was a young cabinet minister Bérégovoy and Jospin before being elected to the regional presidency in the Poitou-Charentes in 2004. Her victory in then-Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin’s native region was significant and boosted her political profile significantly in the run-up to the 2007 presidential election. Royal has no long-standing affiliation with any of the PS’s “historic” factions and her supporters within the party have been all over the place, from ‘moderates’ to left-wingers. Her 2006 primary victory (closed primary, which she won with over 60%) was caused not by her platform’s depth but rather by her standing as a refreshing, charismatic and populist outsider in a contest which pitted her against the old guardsmen Fabius and DSK. The fact that polls showed that she was the most likely to defeat Sarkozy in 2007 didn’t hurt, to say the least.

During her 2007 campaign and since then, Royal has been criticized for her utter lack of coherent political ideas and her half-bizarre/half-crazy attitude in general. In 2007, she made various gaffes on foreign policy and beyond that crafted a program which flirted with the traditionalist right on issues such as security or the family while her idea of “participatory democracy” contrasted in practice with her authoritarian style of governance in Poitou. In the runoff debate, her (pathetic) outburst of staged anger was the first sign of a bizarre erratic character which would become commonplace for her in 2008 and 2009. At times, it appeared as if she was more some sort of religious sect leader rather than a politician. Because of her populist posturing as a maverick outsider and because of her erratic populist behaviour in general, she is the enemy of most of the party’s old guard and hierarchy since at least 2007. She entertains horrible relations with Aubry, Delanoë, Fabius, Jospin and probably Hollande and DSK. To call her ‘anti-establishment’ is only half correct, however, as until 2008 she still enjoyed significant support from members of the PS’ regional establishment: Collomb, Bianco, Guérini or Queyranne.

Royal announced her candidacy in November 2010, nearly a year before the primaries. Throughout the campaign she has never been in a position where she could stand a realistic chance of winning or qualify for a potential runoff. Of the three major candidates in the primaries, she is the one who would perform the worst against Sarkozy – so badly in fact that, if she was to be the candidate, a second April 21, 2002 scenario would be a real possibility. Her erratic, opportunistic and populist half-crazy behaviour in recent years has alienated a large part of her original supporters, who no longer she in her the charismatic refreshing outsider they saw in her in 2006 but rather a crazy old politician who has no coherent ideas of her own.

To think that Royal ever had coherent political ideas is being crazy. She, as a pure opportunist, has shifted her rhetoric to adapt to the crowd and the times. In 2008, when she almost became party leader, she was rather centrist and moderate in her rhetoric with ideas such as an alliance with the centre. This year, however, she has clearly positioned herself on the leaderless left of the party as a sort of left-populist candidate with a syncretic mix of outdated socialism and weird old right traditionalism. Her economic policies include price freezes, guaranteeing lifelong minimal pay raise for workers, nationalizations in all but name for some companies and a constitutional ban mass layoffs. As in 2007, she cultivates a more law-and-order image on security and families. In 2007, she favoured military training for young offenders and talked of the family in rather traditionalist terms.

Since 2008, Royal has been crippled by the departure of most of her bigwig allies. Collomb, her close ally in Reims in 2008, supports Hollande. Guérini the crooked party boss supports Aubry. Valls is running himself. She is left with a base of unconditional ‘royalists’ including Jean-Louis Bianco, Edith Cresson, Jean-Jack Queyranne, Maxime Bono, Guillaume Garot and Delphine Batho.

Arnaud Montebourg is something of the PS’ young maverick and could be the surprise of the primaries if he outpolls Royal for third. Montebourg, who is 48, is a former lawyer who has been deputy for the Saône-et-Loire since 1997 and president of the general council of Saône-et-Loire since 2008. Montebourg, who is starkly on the party’s left, is a charismatic outsider known for his support of a Sixth Republic and his anti-corruption battle notably against then-President Jacques Chirac in 2001. Montebourg supported the NPS faction in the 2005 Le Mans Congress, but then contributed to the NPS’ slow collapse after he rallied Royal in 2006 before backing Aubry in 2008. Montebourg, an extremely media savvy and camera-craving politician, is deeply ambitious and hopes to become a leading figure in the party in coming years. His candidacy is a way of increasing his profile in national politics.

Like Royal, Montebourg announced his candidacy back in November 2010. Montebourg, a longtime standard bearer for the party’s left, is the most left-wing of the 6 candidates. He is supporter of what he calls démondialisation (deglobalization) and some sort of ‘European protectionism’. His economic policies include this aforementioned ‘European protectionism’ consisting of erecting trade barriers to protect Europe from worldwide market competition, notably from China. Domestically, he supports a ‘green reindustrialization’ of France’s economy through a ‘green industrial revolution’, wants to put banks under supervision and also talks of nationalization in all but name. Besides those policies, he supports the creation of a parliamentary Sixth Republic (an old project of his) and is the top anti-corruption candidate. Montebourg has long been popular for his positions against corrupt politicians and gained points in the second debate with his virulent attacks on Jean-Noël Guérini, the embattled corrupt president of the general council of the Bouches-du-Rhône and a thorn in Aubry’s side (he backs Aubry).

Montebourg has little high-profile supporters beside from a few deputies and senators on the party’s left. His top-ranking supporter is 2002 PRG presidential candidate and Guyanese deputy Christiane Taubira.

Manuel Valls is the party’s other “young lion” in this election and hopes to raise his political profile ahead of the next presidential elections in this primary. Valls is deputy and mayor of Evry, a rather low-income planned suburb of Paris in the Essonne department. Manuel Valls, who strongly supported Royal in 2008, gives the image of a young reformist outsider, shunned by his party’s top brass. With reason too: Valls is a critical voice within the party, questioning the party’s dogma on sacrosanct things such as the 35-hour workweek. His political future as a potential ‘rising star’ within the party is constantly checked by his controversial reformist positions on party dogma.

Valls announced his candidacy following DSK’s ‘withdrawal’ of sorts in May. His candidacy never hoped to take DSK’s place on the centre and right of the party, but rather hoped to raise the name recognition and media image of the young mayor of Evry who will certainly try another run at the top executive post. In a campaign which he says aims to “talk truth to voters”, Valls is the most right-wing of all the candidates. He is quite critical the old-style statism of Montebourg and Royal as irresponsible populism. In the past, he has called for a liberalization of the 35-hour workweek, which is very much a holy grail which cannot be touched within the party. He says his main priority would be to combat the debt and public deficit, and pledges to not undertake any new spending without first compensating for new spending by similar cuts elsewhere. He opposes overtaxation of businesses but has made clear that he sees ‘responsible’ tax increases as a necessity to lower the deficit. His economic policies were good enough for The Economist, which praised him as the most responsible of the candidates on economic and fiscal policy – while scolding the others for their overblown left-wing rhetoric. Valls has historically been an advocate of majorly reforming the PS, including changing the party’s name.

Valls’ right-wing positions by party standards might make him popular with right-wing voters, but within the party he aims for a small base which has never gathered more than 10% support in internal contests. Some observers have compared him to Michel Rocard, a moderate pragmatic centrist leader within the PS, but Valls is closer ideologically to Jean-Marie Bockel, the former standard bearer of the ‘social-liberal’ minority within the PS before joining the presidential majority in 2007.

Valls has very little grassroots support, an effect both of his position on the party’s small right-wing and his low name recognition; and low establishment support. Only a handful of parliamentarians back him.

Jean-Michel Baylet is the “nobody” candidate whom nobody knows why he’s actually running. Baylet is not a member of the PS: he is the leader of the Left Radicals (PRG), a small social-liberal party which is little more than a vassal of the PS in actual terms. Baylet is also a PRG Senator, president of the general council of the Tarn-et-Garonne and a businessman/newspaper baron. Nobody really knows who he is outside of his zone of influence in the southwest through his newspaper, the Dépêche du Midi. Baylet has little charisma and is the dictionary definition of an old Radical notable with a local business and political network but lacking the skills which make a national politician.

Baylet is running because it is the best way for his little party, the PRG, to gain a little media coverage and, in the eyes of the PS, still appear relevant and as an ally to be respected when the PS is increasingly being pulled by the Greens to give the far more electorally important Greens a larger role in internal dealings, ahead of the 2012 legislative election. Baylet’s goal seems to be to make sure that the PS still treats him as a loyal ally and gives the PRG a good number of constituencies in 2012 and not give in entirely to the Greens’ and the Left Front’s demands. Policy wise, the only thing which people know about his policy is that he supports legalizing cannabis. Besides that, he is rather moderate and overall to the right of the field. He is concerned, like Valls, about spending levels in relation to France’s deficit and he wants a federal Europe to spearhead economic reform.

He is supported by the PRG’s caucus and a few overseas deputies. He is also backed by Génération écologie (GE), an old but very small centre-right green party. Nobody knows Baylet and he has absolutely no base with those who will vote in bigger numbers (PS members), therefore he will perform very poorly.

Polling

It is hard to poll primaries in Europe, France included, because there is no widespread party registration like in the United States where it easier to identify registered partisans and independents. Polling an open primary with a wider electorate which is not limited only to party members is, however, easier and more accurate. Pollsters nowadays include two samples in their polls: leftists and socialists, sometimes expanding it to include smaller (and thus more shaky) subsamples of leftists and socialists ‘likely to vote’.  The most recent poll is from Ifop, which polled on different days between September 15 and 30 and identified 1434 leftists including 782 socialists. The breakdown I give is as follows: % among leftists/% among leftists likely to vote/% among socialists. Beware of small samples.

François Hollande 42% / 46% / 51%
Martine Aubry 27% / 26% / 26%
Ségolène Royal 11% / 11% / 9%
Arnaud Montebourg 8% / 7% / 5%
Manuel Valls 5% / 5% / 5%
Jean-Michel Baylet 1% / 1% / 1%
NOTA 5% / 2% / 2%
Undecided 1% / 2% / 1%

Ipsos between September 21 and 26 polled those likely to vote in the primary:

François Hollande 44%
Martine Aubry 27%
Ségolène Royal 13%
Arnaud Montebourg 10%
Manuel Valls 5%
Jean-Michel Baylet 1%

A Harris poll between September 28 and 29, so entirely after the second debate, said (% among leftists/% among socialists)

François Hollande 40% / 49%
Martine Aubry 28% / 26%
Arnaud Montebourg 12% / 9%
Ségolène Royal 6% / 6%
Manuel Valls 4% / 5%
Jean-Michel Baylet 1% / 0%
NOTA 9% / 5%

The guiding principle when looking at these polls should be caution and more caution. Primaries like these are new in France to hard and treacherous to poll. While Hollande is undoubtedly the favourite and will come out on top – all pollsters agree at least on this point – his performance on October 9 will affect how the runoff is played off on October 16. If he ends up polling as strongly as he polls with only PS primary voters, then he will either win outright by October 9 or he will head into October 16 as the pretty much unbeatable candidate. If, however, he polls only 40% or even, less likely, falls below 40% while Aubry manages to break 30%, the whole game could be altered pretty significantly. While recent polls on a Hollande/Aubry runoff give Hollande a big edge there too, if he enters this runoff with a weak October 9 performance he could be vulnerable to attacks from Aubry and a change in voter mobilization. Furthermore, Aubry can count on a slightly larger of potential runoff voters from first-round Royal and Montebourg voters while Hollande’s most likely sources of runoff transfers are pretty weak (Valls and Baylet). Hollande is the favourite, but given the unpredictable nature of such affairs, don’t be shocked if the polls blow this pretty badly.

Open primaries will be much less open to vote manipulation, backroom deals and unorthodox tactics on the ground than closed primaries or internal PS party business is. Party machines and the ‘big federations’ will not have as much sway over the results in an open primary, where the electorate is much wider and, for a lot probably, not tied to the power of the bosses of the big federations. While I expect the patterns to be similar to internal PS party business, with Aubry polling strongly in the Nord and in Fabiusian fiefs such as his native Seine-Maritime, it is unlikely that, like in the 2008 first-secretary runoff, the shady and unorthodox party bosses in their federations will be able to control the results. Royal has expressed concern about the power of the unorthodox party bosses, but that’s mostly because she has lost all of their support, because in 2008 she didn’t raise much concerns about the heavy-handed and behind-the-scenes manipulations of one Jean-Noël Guérini who had delivered his big federation to her with a huge (77%) majority… Beyond manipulations and unsavoury voting shenanigans, Aubry’s campaign is pretty terrible but her campaign team includes old weathered apparatchiks who could be an asset in a closely fought runoff battle: people like Claude Bartolone, Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, David Assouline or Laurent Fabius.

For those who read French, I strongly recommend you to read the new Sondages 2012 blog, written by a good friend of mine who has some much more interesting analysis on all things 2012.

Japan’s seventh Prime Minister in five years

When watching Japanese politics from the outside, it seems as if the incumbent Prime Minister resigns every other day. Indeed, since September 2006 – five years ago – there have been seven Prime Ministers, of which only the outgoing one, Naoto Kan, lasted over one year. Since the resignation in September 2006 of Junichiro Koizumi, Japan’s last successful Prime Minister, Japanese politics have been marked by instability in the top job. There is perhaps a culture which compels leaders to resign when they are viewed as failures, and there are also factional wars in both major parties which often conspire in the backrooms to push the Prime Minister out the door.

The incumbent Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, in office since June 2010, never faced a general election and came to power with the resignation of Yukio Hatoyama, elected in the 2009 general election in which the ruling centrist Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) defeated the right-wing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Japan’s natural governing party. Kan blundered right at the start by hiking the sales tax from 5% to 10%, which resulted in the DPJ’s poor showing in the 2010 upper house elections. In September 2010, Kan defeated his party rival Ichirō Ozawa in a leadership election. Ozawa, the DPJ leader between 2006 and 2009, is known as the DPJ’s “Shadow Shogun” for his traditional place in party intrigue, corruption and backroom politics. Ozawa took control of a demoralized and divided DPJ, trounced by Koizumi in the 2005 elections, and managed to rebuild it to a formidable alternative to the unpopular LDP by the 2007 upper house elections. However, Ozawa, a former LDP boss defeated in an LDP battle, wanted to build the DPJ into something of a new LDP for bitter LDP losers. That included pandering to the LDP’s clientelistic coalition, and inevitably turning the DPJ into an archaic corrupt shell rather than the reformist, pragmatic alternative it was supposed to be. Ozawa did not the DPJ into the August 2009 landslide election, because a corruption scandals months before in May had forced him out. However, he backed Yukio Hatoyama who defeated the reformist candidate, former leader Katsuya Okada. Ozawa thus became ‘shadow leader’ of the DPJ, the man pulling the strings for Hatoyama who soon proved how much of a tool he was. His incompetence forced him out in June 2010, where Kan, a reformist anti-Ozawa figure backed by the DPJ’s right-wing was elected. Ozawa, who had resigned around the same time as Hatoyama from his office of secretary general of the DPJ, challenged Kan for the leadership again in September (a regular party election: Kan had been elected to fill the remainder of Hatoyama’s term as DPJ president). Ozawa lost only 200 to 206 in the MP vote, but party members and local elected officials much preferred Kan, who was much more popular than Ozawa with voters.

Kan was hurt by the March tsunami and nuclear disaster in Fukushima, where his slow and tepid response to the crisis was much criticized. Japan’s economic situation and massive debt was also a major point of criticism, especially in recent days with Japan’s debt level downgraded by rating agencies. Similar to the debt ceiling fight in the United States, the battle over Japan’s economic situation (made worse by the ravaging tsunami in March) has been between increased taxes or spending cuts. The LDP wants the DPJ to drop some of its generous spending policies instead of having to borrow to finance the Japanese debt. Pressure mounted on Kan to resign and set a timetable for his resignation. His approval rating is below 20%, most of his party dislikes him, business despises him and the press attacks him. In June, he survived a leadership vote after Hatoyama and Ozawa’s faction backed down in exchange for a promise to resign soon. He finally did so last week, opening the gates to my favourite thing in party politics: leadership contests and factional wars.

The candidates were finance minister Yoshihiko Noda, trade and industry minister Banri Kaieda, former foreign minister and DPJ leader Seiji Maehara, agriculture minister Michihiko Kano and former transportation minister Sumio Mabuchi. Noda, on the party’s right, is nonetheless a prominent reformist. Noda is controversial for his constant insistence that Japanese class-A war criminals are not in fact war criminals, a view much criticized by South Korea – which Naoto Kan has cozied up to. Kaieda is close to Hatoyama and received the support of Ozawa, who despite being a crook and all that has one of the largest factions in the party with up to 130 MPs out of 398. Kaieda notably cried in Parliament under a barrage of criticism. Former foreign minister Seiji Maehara is also a reformist on the party’s right and a prominent pro-American ‘hawk’ (or neoconservative) within the party who was forced out in March after receiving bizarre illegal donations from a Korean living in Japan. Maehara is popular with voters and was believed to be the favourite. Not much is known about Kano or Mabuchi, but Mabuchi was apparently backed by some Kan opponent. Currently 398 DPJ Diet members were allowed to vote (there was no primary with members as this is a special election) and did so this morning.

Kaieda received 143 votes, Noda 102, Maehara 74, Kano 52 and Mabuchi 54. In the second ballot, the anti-Ozawa candidates, the most prominent of which were Maehara and Noda (perhaps linked by a secret deal), all united behind Noda. Noda won 213-177 against Kaieda. Ozawa lost a third successive battle to control the party, though his powerful faction will continue to influence the DPJ and a thorn in the side for the reformist leadership of Noda (and Maehara).

Noda has a major task ahead of him. Beyond rebuilding, he faces a tough economic situation and above all restore people’s trust in politicians. Kan’s downfall is emblematic of a popular disgust and disillusion with all politicians, DPJ or LDP. It is doubtful that Noda will be able to repair that long-lost connection of trust and confidence between voter and leader in Japan. His controversial comments on the war criminals raises eyebrows, but above all his support for higher taxes and a potential grand coalition with the LDP is quite controversial in Japan. It remains to be seen if he’ll even last a year, given the track record so far. The DPJ’s absolute majority in the House of Representatives is not due to renewed until the summer of 2013, which is a long way away and which might, if the trend holds, see the DPJ led by somebody else than Noda.

France 2012: Primaryfest

France only votes on April 22 and May 6, 2012 but that hasn’t kept certain parties to hold their primaries way before then. All combining with DSKgate and the PS primaries in October to make people think that the election is being held next week rather than in nearly ten months. I’ll let the dust settle on the PS primaries before starting coverage of those, but two important nominating events/primaries have been held: the Communist Party (PCF) between June 16 and 18, and the first round of the Europe Écologie – Les Verts (EELV) primaries between June 16 and 24.

PCF Internal vote

Since the pitiful 1.93% won by the PCF’s Marie-George Buffet in 2007, the PCF has been desperately looking for a way to kick-start a party which is widely perceived to be approaching its deathbed. Since 2009, that effort at regeneration has taken the form of a close alliance with the Left Party (PG) founded in 2008 by former PS cabinet minister Jean-Luc Mélenchon. That alliance, styled Left Front (FG) did do some wonders for the PCF: the FG won 6% in the 2009 European elections, 5.8% in the 2010 regional elections and roughly 8% in cantonal elections earlier this year. But from the PCF’s standpoint, the problem with the FG is that it has become increasingly subjected to Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s desires and personality. Though his party (the PG) would not exist in any viable shape or form without the PCF’s support, Mélenchon has a charisma, personality and fiery passion which is totally absent from the PCF Politburo. In sharp contrast to the fiery ambitious Mélenchon, the PCF’s boss, Pierre Laurent, appears to be a nice but totally boring bureaucratic apparatchik whose better fit is some dusty Moscow office in 1970. Thus, in the hyper-mediatized world of presidential elections which are influenced so much by personality, a boring party boss is certainly not a good candidate and would risk being totally overshadowed by an ambitious man with a huge media presence (a lot of which consists of hurling jabs and insults at journalists).

It thus shouldn’t be too surprising that the PCF’s Politburo led by Laurent has been very keen on pushing forth an inevitable Mélenchon candidacy within the FG. While it may seem somewhat surprising that a party’s boss is pushing the candidacy of a deeply ambitious potential future rival, the PCF Politburo keenly understands that Mélenchon is basically the only viable option for the party which would, by all measures, be far weaker without the boost that the FG (and Mélenchon) provides to it. A strong result by the FG in 2012 increases the PCF-FG’s bargaining power against the PS ahead of both the June 2012 legislative elections and, depending on who wins on May 6, the potential place of the PCF in a hypothetical left-wing government coalition. A strong result, of course, also allows the PCF to survive.

Mélenchon, of course, didn’t wait for Laurent to mention the idea of him running 2012 to think about it. He announced his candidacy officially on January 21.

But the strategy of a Mélenchon candidacy within the FG has always faced the opposition of a strong minority within the PCF. Some oppose him because they dislike some former Socialist cabinet minister running the show, others fear that Mélenchon running the show will end up killing the PCF. At first it appeared as if, whatever form the PCF’s nominating event would take, the opposition to a Mélenchon candidacy would be diverse. In 2009, Alain Bocquet, an orthodox PCF deputy from the Nord announced his interest but didn’t take it much further than exploratory stage. Maxime Gremetz, the famously insane Stalinist ex-PCF deputy from the Somme announced his candidacy in January 21 as well but took it no further than that. André Gerin, a hardline orthodox deputy from the Rhône, announced his candidacy but finally backed out on June 5. The anti-Mélenchon chorus joined the bandwagon of André Chassaigne. Chassaigne, unlike the previous three, is not particularly known to be an orthodox but is a rather talented politician on his own. Chassaigne has a huge personal vote in his eastern Puy-de-Dôme constituency, which translated into a record 14% showing for his FG list in the 2010 regional elections in Auvergne. However, he obviously has low name recognition and falls far short of Mélenchon’s notoriety.

On June 3-5, the PCF national conference approved the leadership’s resolution which included a Mélenchon candidacy within a continued FG by a vote of 416 to 238. It also approved the organization of an ‘internal consultation’ (by mail) of contributing PCF members between June 16 and 18 on the basis of three options: a Mélenchon-FG candidacy, a Chassaigne-FG candidacy or a Emmanuel Dang Tran-PCF candidacy.

Roughly 69,200 members were eligible to vote, of which some 48,631 did so (70.25% turnout): results available online by federation

Jean-Luc Mélenchon (FG candidacy) 59.12%
André Chassaigne (FG candidacy) 36.82%
Emmanuel Dang Tran (PCF candidacy) 4.07%

While the Mélenchon candidacy was approved, there is obviously a strong minority of opponents to his candidacy within the PCF as expressed by the strong 36.8% showing by Chassaigne (and Dang Tran’s 4.1%, representing the hardcore orthodox faction). What that means for his candidacy is unclear, but it shouldn’t be as huge a case as some make it out to be. Mélenchon has the media presence and the fiery charisma to win a respectable (though perhaps not excellent) result if he plays his cards right. His current polling numbers oscillate between 6 and 8%, which is far better than the PCF could have hoped for with a Chassaigne or orthodox candidacy.

The PCF was nice enough to release the internal results, allowing us to shed light on the geographic divide of the PCF base. Chassaigne won some big federations (Nord, Val-de-Marne, Seine-Maritime,  Pas-de-Calais, Rhône) and a lot of the old communist strongholds. The Nord (probably Pas-de-Calais too) and Rhône results were likely influenced by the support of Gerin and Bocquet. Other wins, such as Meurthe-et-Moselle appear to be orthodox federations. Mélenchon swept the vast majority of small federations in the southwest and southeast in addition to strong showings in Ile-de-France. Some of his big federation wins were Paris, Seine-Saint-Denis, Bouches-du-Rhône, Hauts-de-Seine and Hérault. Dang Tran somehow won Haute-Saône (which isn’t his home department – he’s Parisian), though only 198 folks voted there. He also did well in the Aisne (28.8%) and Tarn (31%).

Europe Écologie – Les Verts Primary

The 2012 presidential ballot is both crucial and tricky from the new EELV party, the successor of the Greens. It is necessary that they run a candidate for obvious reasons, but in such an election more than any other election they lack the factors which led to their breakthrough success in 2009. Cohn-Bendit, the movement’s most prominent figure, had no interest in running. The Greens do have lots of talent – but aside from Cohn-Bendit and a few well-known figures, they lack many strong, modern, viable standard-bearers. Their two most prominent leaders both came out to play a prominent role.

Cohn-Bendit encouraged the candidacy of MEP Eva Joly, a Norwegian-born corruption-busting magistrate. Joly has relatively little political experience and is not very charismatic nor very used to the rough-and-tumble of electoral politics, but has a good profile as “the honest candidate” of sorts. She announced interest by August 2010, but ran her operation quite badly until recently.

Nicolas Hulot is very well known as a prominent telecologist and host of the successful nature show Ushuaïa on TF1. He almost ran in 2007, but backed out at the last minute as he got 5 out of 12 candidates to sign on to his “Pacte de l’écologie” (including the top 3 contenders). Hulot is a rather well-liked figure, and many Greens liked both his background out of politics and the strong media impact and media frenzy his candidacy would have on EELV. But he has numerous opponents, both outside and inside the party. Aside from the enemies made from his ‘shock films’ and reports, many criticize him for being an hypocrite media icon funded by EDF or L’Oréal (which aren’t too ecofriendly) and working for the broadly right-wing TF1. Within the party, most of his opposition comes from the party’s old more left-wing fundie faction and the establishment which aren’t fond of Hulot ruining the show for them. The party’s boss, Cécile Duflot, isn’t fond of him to say the least while Cohn-Bendit is visibly pissed at a lot of things within EELV and its creation and seems to be sitting it out.

There were also two other candidates: Henri Stoll, known as “the Alsatian” who is the Green mayor of Kayersberg (Haut-Rhin) and known for wearing a wooden tie; and Stéphane Lhomme, an anti-nuclear activist who hates Hulot with a passion.

The first ever ecolo primary was organized for all EELV (and the much smaller MEI led by Antoine Weachter) paying members as well as non-member sympathizers (‘cooperators’ in greeniespeak) both online and by mail. The first round was between June 16 and 24 (June 23 for e-voting) with results having been announced on June 29. A runoff will run from July 1 to 9, with results to be announced on June 29.

The campaign was rather harsh on both sides. Joly was accused by Hulot of preaching a restrictive and pessimistic view of environmentalism, while Lhomme and Joly (to a lesser extent) made a case of Hulot’s hyper-mediatization. Joly received support from the old Greens (a lot of whom are lefties): Mamère, Voynet, Lipietz, Contassot (plus lesser known oldies: Buchmann, Blandin, Rivasi) but also, among others, MEP Yannick Jadot (ex-Greenpeace), Corsican regionalist MEP François Alfonsi and Nantes MP François de Rugy. Hulot got the support of José Bové, Yves Cochet, Antoine Waechter, Denis Baupin but also former resistance figure Stéphane Hessel and homeless rights activist Augustin Legrand.

These things are hard to poll and few dared, but a Viavoice poll showed Hulot crushing Joly (though only 133 Greens were sampled out of 1005).

Turnout was a strong 77%, roughly 25,400 out of some 32,900 eligible voters.

Eva Joly 49.75%
Nicolas Hulot 40.22%
Henri Stoll 5.02%
Stéphane Lhomme 4.44%
Blank 0.37%

Joly will need to wait a bit longer for a quasi-certain consecration in the runoff (though everything, technically, is still possible) but her victory is a real shocker. Hulot had been widely assumed to be coasting to a triumph in the primary, but apparently the limited voting pool made for a very restrictive and thus unpredictable primary. Many Hulot supporters say Joly’s victory is a victory for the left within the party, a victory for both the old fundie-left (with a past in the old party) and the establishment which dislikes him. Aside from frustration, that view is actually quite correct. Joly probably won because of the fears of the party’s voting base (paying members, thus more likely to be old traditionalist ecologists rather than new Hulot-fans) of Hulot hijacking the party or shifting it into something out of touch with the Green movement’s past as a traditional political party.

This is all a great big disappointment to Hulot, who has quit his “job” to do this and may potentially be looking at launching an independent green candidacy on his own. While I doubt he’ll go that far, and will probably grudgingly accept defeat, if he did go it alone it would likely destroy the EELV movement. It’s a matter of opinion whether or not he or Joly would be better candidates. Hulot might have attracted some nice polling numbers from various voters, but how much of that support was solid as opposed to fickle ten-month out nonsense we’ll never know. If he could have led a political campaign despite lacking political-electoral experience we’ll also probably never know. Joly might reassure the Green base, but likely has less of a chance at breaking out to voters than Hulot might have had though she could do well if she plays the ethical card well. So far she has proven that she has pretty mediocre campaigning skills and her pessimistic/restrictive view of ecology (as Hulot accused her of holding) might scare away some hesitating voters. Pollsters have traditionally shown her lower than Hulot, who won some very high polling numbers (sometimes over 10% in some polls), but the latest Ifop poll had her performing as well (6.5%) as Hulot though a CSA poll had her lower (4-5%) than Hulot (7-9%).

The good news in all this primaryfest is that the fun has only begun. The massive French political happening of 2011, the massive PS primary is happening in October!