What the Ipsos Survey Does Not Say

French Flag. Photo: Flickr.com/ Sylvain Naudin

French Flag.
Photo: Flickr.com/ Sylvain Naudin

Back in February, Science Po’s Political Studies Center and the Jean Jaurès Foundation presented a new Ipsos study for Le Monde called “France 2013: new divisions.” The survey polled 1016 people above the age of 18, attempting to gauge French approval regarding their own society and government. But behind the numerous questions and survey-tailored wording, what does the Ipsos survey truly reveal about France and her citizens?

Political science professor at the National Institute of Languages and Oriental Civilizations Sophie Maurer found many of the survey questions problematic, deeming them naïve and imprecise. She also found drew unjustified conclusions regarding the functioning of the French democratic system.

According to Maurer, the Ipsos survey created confusion, leading people to say that their ideas are not politically represented and that most politicians are corrupt. “In France, this topic of corruption is often confused with the representativeness or the unrepresentativeness of the political actors,” Maurer said, but the cases of corruption “are not more numerous nor more important than in most of the European countries.” She pointed out that most people turn to the most widely known cases of corruption when answering these sorts of questions, however there is in fact a low rate of corruption when considering the percentage of all elected officials.

Nevertheless, “there is a real problem concerning the “representativeness” of the politicians,” explained Maurer, especially when it comes to women in the political spectrum “communities [that] do not feel represented.”

Maurer questions whether or not representatives need to mirror the make-up of society or if they simply need to represent those communities fairly. Her greatest concern about the current political set-up is whether all opinions manage to be heard when a majority is needed to govern. “The weaker opinions are crushed,” she said, which the PS and the UMP to have a disproportionate amount of power compared to the groups they actually represent within the electorate.

One of the more controversial questions that the Ipsos survey asked was whether or not people thought there needed to be a true head of state “to bring back order.”  According to Maurer, France has always seen itself as having had “true leaders,” such as Napoléon Bonaparte or Charles de Gaulle. As a result, there is often an unrealistic projection on the head of state, which was especially true under Sarkozy’s presidency. This may explain François Hollande’s low popularity, since according to Maurer people reproach him more because of his personality than his actual policymaking. With Hollande, the French have a more classical relationship with their President.  “[Hollande] does not stage his personal life … he is not in a passionate relationship with the population nor with his opponents,” in contrast to his predecessor.

The survey also asked many questions regarding immigration and xenophobia, revealing that 78% answered that they were becoming more distrustful of the “other,” 70% think that there are too many foreigners in France, and 62% do not feel “at home” in France.

It is easy to link these answers to growing xenophoboia in France.  Maurer believes that to “break this idea, this fear, we need to go through a series of stages,” that she believes needs to start with parties that label themselves as “democratic.” Nevertheless, immigration and security issues can be very useful for politicians, especially for the right-wing because they can draw attention away from economic policies, “so for them, on a strategic level, there is no reason not to take advantage of these issues.”

For Maurer, the answer to these issues lies in tackling discrimination by encouraging, for example, stronger diversity policies in schools and in the workplace, “when we work on this issue of diversity in our daily lives, when we see more diversity represented in the media, and among the politicians of course, this diversity will look natural, and it will not be considered worrisome anymore.”

As expected, the economy played a large role in the survey as well from unemployment rates to France’s place in today’s international community.

The French unemployment rate has been rising since the 1990s. According to Professor of International Economics and Commerce at the Superior School of Commerce in Angers Assen Slim, one of the solutions could be ”to federate the European countries around a wide project of collective recovery of effective demand. And this would imply to previously reject the stability pact.”

“A return to the Franc is not desirable,” said Slim, however, the current Eurozone is showing its shortcomings and “the recent establishment of the Outright Monetary Transaction (OMT) by the European Central Bank is a testimony of this raising awareness.” Slim explained that it is no longer possible to have a Central Bank that refuses to buy some member state’s public debt’s title, nor to have a euro-zone with heterogeneity of taxations, nor to impose systematic reductions of public spending in a situation of economic crisis when the situation calls for recovery spending.

Slim observed that unemployment and purchasing power have been constant worries for French public opinion since 1975, but that the current economic crisis has only put stress on these worries. According to the World Intellectual Property Organization, the French filed 7,664 patents in 2011, while the United Kingdom and Switzerland filed 4,844 and 3,999 respectively; however, 51% of the respondents considered the decline of French economic power as inevitable, while 49% considered it as not inevitable.

The same year that the European Union won the Nobel Peace Prize, 61% of the respondents wrote that globalization was a threat to the country while 58% believe that France needs to protect itself against globalization. According to Slim, “the return to protectionism only makes sense if we estimate that we are living in a non-protectionist situation … In a world where national socio-productive systems’ structures are so different from each other,” it is unrealistic to expect all countries to be on a level playing field. Although many believe in more protectionist policies, the vast majority of respondents — 72% to be exact — responded that they wanted to stay in the Eurozone in the future.  65% believe that there is a need to strengthen France’s decision-making power, even if it leads to the limitation of that of Europe.

A closer look at the Ipsos survey reveals not only a widespread unhappiness with the current situation in France, but stark divisions when it comes to choosing how to find solutions.


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