Faced with a straight choice between Nicolas Sarkozy and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, 54 per cent of French voters would vote for a man accused of attempted rape, a new poll indicates.
Of all the scathing judgements heaped on Mr Sarkozy in his four years as President, a BVA opinion poll published yesterday was the most damning. For the first time since May, when Mr Strauss-Kahn was arrested in New York, French people were asked how they would vote if "DSK" happened to reach a two-candidate run-off against Mr Sarkozy in the second round of the French presidential election next May.
Although Mr Strauss-Kahn's rating dropped sharply from his commanding, pre-arrest position, 54 per cent of those questioned said that they would still vote for the former IMF chief rather than for than the incumbent, Mr Sarkozy. This was, almost certainly, a ringing vote of no-confidence in Mr Sarkozy rather than a genuine declaration of support for Mr Strauss-Kahn.
In another poll, taken by Ipsos on the same dates, 61 per cent of those questioned said they would not want the one-time frontrunner Mr Strauss-Kahn to run, even if he is cleared of the charges of sexual assault and attempted rape.
The BVA poll is therefore the clearest evidence so far of a deep-rooted "anyone but Sarko" sentiment in the French electorate, nine months before the first round of the presidential election in April.
Other recent polls have indicated a slight recovery in Mr Sarkozy's approval ratings, but he remains more unpopular than any sitting president in the history of the Fifth Republic (post-1958) at this stage in the electoral cycle.
Mr Sarkozy insists, in private meetings with parliamentary supporters and financial backers, that he has a "good feeling" about the 2012 election. Despite the disastrous polls, he believes that the slight right-wing majority in the French electorate and the unappealing character of his centre-left opponents will work in his favour. Most French political pundits are also reluctant to write off Mr Sarkozy.
Much will depend on the primary campaign of the main opposition party, the Parti Socialiste, which opens officially this weekend. Yesterday's polls again suggested that the former Socialist party leader François Hollande has a stronger chance of beating Mr Sarkozy next April and May than the present party leader, Martine Aubry. But the rules of the open primary in October may favour Ms Aubry.
All recent polls suggest that the new, outwardly more moderate and plausible leader of the far right, Marine Le Pen, has lost ground. She is now predicted to fall just short of reaching the second-round run-off, but that could easily change before next spring.
Much also depends on the decisions taken by three rival, potential "centrist" candidates – Jean-Louis Borloo, François Bayrou and Hervé Morin. They could take enough votes away from Mr Sarkozy to allow Ms Le Pen to knock him out of the running by snatching second place in the first round.