Thierry Borsa is an editor at Le Parisien, a daily French paper that's been publishing voter intention results regularly for the past several months. He leafs through Wednesday's paper, which has a survey on the top of the front page, showing Segolene Royale 4 points higher than Sarkozy in the first round of the election.
He explains that Sarkozy was polling at 55 percent and Royale at 44 percent. Now the results are different. This of course, with thirty percent of respondents who are undecided. Polls are everywhere, but they haven't proven very accurate in the past. In 1995 survey results favoredPrime Minister Edouard Balladur. Yet he was beat out by Lionel Jospin, who then lost to his challenger, Jacques Chirac. In 2002 the same thing- no polls predicted that Jean-Marie Le Pen would enter the second round of voting, but he did, pushing out Jospin. Despite their inaccuracies, politicians and journalists continue to commission and use opinion polls.
"There is in France like in any other country a controversy about the use of newspapers can use of the figures to influence voters… They want to be the first to publish the new uh- new results. New opinion poll results. "
And the opposite trend was the increase voting intention for Francois Bayrou on the same period.
Francois Bayrou, a center-right candidate, has been making headlines, polling recently around 15 percent. Doiret is quick to point out that the surveys are not predictions, but its always good when they're right.
We learn a lot from our mistakes and try to make the best of what we already know about people's opinion.
Jean Chiche is studies public opinion and surveys at Science Politique. He says voters decide in the last days of an election. If you look at the numbers from a week before the 2002 election, it was obvious that Jospin was going down. The numbers were there, but people weren't looking:
"There would have had to be imaginative analysis that transcended political analysis. Very few people did that. But that doesn't mean that the trends are false. They are real. They are correct."
Chiche does not discredit all surveys. In fact, his own organization, the CEVIPOF, produces a "political barometer" of French politics, which he says digs deep into the issues concerning the French electorate. He dismisses the more basic surveys based on small sample sizes, like the ones conducted by CSA for Le Parisien.
The numbers may not have statistical value, but they sell newspapers-at least according to the woman who sells papers in the kiosk outside of the CSA offices in Paris. She explains that she doesn't pay much attention to the surveys herself, but it sells papers, so she doesn't mind.
"The polls that constantly reproduce the same numbers and that show that the situation is stable are journalistically not very interesting. And for our readers, it's not as interesting than a survey that shows that things are changing…. But we're not looking for movement everywhere. We're not telling them what to say to the pollsters! We are just here to explain the evolution to our readers, if there is evolution"
So the papers want change, because that makes the news. But do the numbers influence voters? No, says Jean Chiche.
"I don't think that surveys have any influence on electoral choices. No more than an editorial from a political commentator. A survey is an element of information among others …. It provides a kind of background noise... I don't think they have an influence on the outcome of the vote. It's a tool like any other."Listen to the report:
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