Friday, May 18, 2007

Sarkozy Election: Demographics

Sometimes it's all how you slice the data.

Tom Peters' claim is that the Socialist candidate Royal won among those 18-59, while Sarkozy won among those over 60. Peters’ interpretation of this is that those retired or about to retire insisted that the younger workers were going to have to put their noses to the grindstone, while those working opted for more socialism.

Not so fast. There is first the required caution, not mentioned half enough about any poll, that small majorities are exactly that: small. If Sarkozy beats Royal 53-47 among café waitresses, your informal poll of those who bring you your morning omelet is going to seem evenly divided, even after a year of asking. Secondly, it is quite a leap to assume that all these French citizens are voting solely, or even primarily for the reasons that journalists and observers think they are. People have hundreds of reasons, ranging from the sensible to the bizarre, why they prefer a given candidate. As the election approaches, the candidates and the undecided voters focus on a very few issues, but these are not an exhaustive list.

But let’s throw caution to the wind*, and analyze the French election along these same oversimplified lines that journalists are so fond of. Let’s pretend it is economic aggressiveness versus economic protectiveness that dominated the mind of the French voter. If we look at the data in more detail, we see something quite different in the voting patterns. While it is technically true that Royal wins among those 18-59, such a broad generalization obscures a great deal. (Ipsos/Dell) The "internet" generation of 18- to 24-year-olds voted 58 per cent for Mme Royal. The 25- to 34-year-olds voted 57 per cent for M. Sarkozy. The "May 1968"- Mitterrand generation of 45- to 59-year-olds voted 55 per cent for Mme Royal. The 35 to 44 generation split 50-50. This is a sine curve, not a single sloped line that puts the under 59’s in Royal’s camp and the over 60’s in Sarkozy’s. Okay, it’s a messy sine curve, flattened through the middle part. Deal with it.

The 18-24 cohort has 20% unemployment. Any reason that unemployed adolescents might want a more socialist environment? Those who have figured out why France has so many unemployed 18-24 year-olds might lean toward Sarkozy, but there is no reason to assume that French young people are significantly more economically savvy and future-oriented than their American counterparts. A 20-year-old without a job tends to be worried about what is going to bring life’s goods to his door over the next few months, or even weeks. Vote Segolene, socialist mother of four.

Then we have a longish run of those aged 25 to about 40 who voted solidly for Sarkozy. 40-odd to 55 went for Royal, after which it is increasingly Sarkozy all the way. If we make the convenient assumption that the youngest voting cohort might become less socialist after they start getting jobs, what we note over the whole spectrum is not socialism among those younger than 60, but a more socialist blip somewhere between 40-59. As that blip is bookended by some strong Sarkozy support, unless there is a sharp break right at the edges of that age cohort it is likely that some ages in that range are well above 60% support for Mme. Royal. Hmm. A narrow cohort 5-10 years wide around 50 years old is very socialist. Everyone else over age 24 leans more free-market. This is not quite an opposite to Tom Peters analysis, but it is sharply different.

That batch of socialists aren’t going away soon, and they’re likely to become more demanding as they get older, so French conservatives had better get cracking on convincing younger people that it’s the protected, not the open, economy that’s screwing them over.

*Looking at that idiom more closely, what a beautiful, expressive phrase. Hackneyed by now, but still… ah, a bit of research shows it is derived at several removes from John Milton. Of course.

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