Psephologists in the dark

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THE flea market on the northern outskirts of Paris is the nearest thing the French capital has to a sample of la France profonde: the real France that politicians turn misty-eyed about during elections.

Anyone with anything to sell can turn up for the weekend market. From the lowly, disposing of ripped-off car radios or leather jackets, to high-class antique dealers with permanent, well-appointed stalls specialising in Directoire furniture, it is a place where all strata of society rub shoulders.

Last Sunday, the day of France's referendum on the Maastricht treaty, one antiquarian bookseller had put at the front of his display a volume of engravings entitled The Germanic Onrush on Poland, 915-1915. Priced at 400 francs (pounds 46), it contained lurid pictures of Prussians in spiked helmets sticking their swords into the Slav.

Given the use of a German menace, military and economic, by both sides in the referendum campaign, one (non-Germanic) EC resident of Paris took the bookseller to task. 'Not very Maastrichtian, is it?' he opined. 'I'm not very Maastrichtian either,' replied the bookseller.

The vendor looked to be in his late forties, but that didn't make him typical, since he was part of an age group split down the middle by last Sunday's vote. Surveys since the referendum show that men aged 35-49 were split 50 per cent for 'yes', 50 per cent 'no'.

Before last Sunday, the forecasters had earmarked several likely trends. First, the young, brought up on a diet of Europe from the cradle, would be overwhelmingly in favour.

Why, then, did a survey for the daily newspaper Liberation show that under-25s led the 'no' vote among women, with 57 per cent rejecting the treaty?

And why were they out of step with their boyfriends? Men under 25, with a 58 per cent 'yes', were the largest group of male voters in favour.

Another pre-vote truism was that the elderly would be the most anti-Maastricht. However, it was the over-65s, with a 58 per cent 'yes' vote, who led the women's approval ratings. The same age category among men was above the national average, with a 52 per cent vote in favour.

All other age groups were pro-Maastricht in roughly equal proportions for both sexes, showing that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Farmers, who have benefited most from European Community policies, voted 62 per cent against Maastricht. Teachers, notoriously underpaid, voted 76 per cent in favour.

The group worst affected by current economic conditions, the unemployed, was against, but by a moderate 54 per cent.

The immediate post-result analysis was that the rich, bourgeois France, particularly in the cities, had voted 'yes', with the poor and rural voting against.

Even this, however, was shown to be too simplistic. As Olivier Duhamel, one of France's top political scientists, wrote in Le Monde: 'Why did Brittany vote massively 'yes' and Normandy massively 'no',' given that the two regions are neighbours with similar profiles?

Emmanuel Todd, a specialist on demography and politics, came up with his explanation: the 'yes' areas correspond in large measure to those areas where Catholicism is traditionally strongest: Brittany, the east, the south of the Massif Central, the Basque country and Bearn.

Of the political parties which campaigned in favour of Maastricht, Valery Giscard d'Estaing's conservative Union for French Democracy was most in tune with its supporters, Mr Todd said.

'Its 'yes' was that of a France of the right, which is Catholic and has always accepted a certain degree of transnational authority,' Mr Todd said. 'Yesterday it was Rome. Today, Brussels.'