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Job Concerns in the Middle of France's Left-Right Election

by Julie Ray

Employment policy, job creation key issues


PRINCETON, NJ -- The shouting may be all over, but whether French voters will turn their country to the right or left -- and potentially elect its first female president -- won't be known until results are tallied Sunday.

Center-right candidate Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Segolene Royal sparred -- vividly at times -- Wednesday on issues such as the economy, employment, and crime and security, in their first and only televised debate, which was estimated to have drawn 20 million viewers. Although some polls have Sarkozy as the front-runner, both Sarkozy and Royal were likely trying to swing supporters of centrist Francois Bayrou, who gleaned more than 18% in the first round but did not reach the runoff.

Results from a Gallup World Poll conducted in France in late 2006 indicate that some of these election issues were likely heard loud and clear.

Employment Policy

One of the debate's more heated exchanges regarded France's 35-hour workweek, which is one of the shortest in the world and a source of consternation for the political right. Sarkozy called the Socialist employment policy "a complete catastrophe … for the French economy" that has failed to lower unemployment. Royal defended the policy, and asked why the government (in which Sarkozy was a minister for four of the last five years) had not done away with such a "damaging" policy.

On average, French workers say they work 7.98 hours a day and 70% say they typically work five days a week -- these figures correspond with results from the United Kingdom and Germany, where the 35-hour week is not law. Slightly more than one in four French workers (26%) feel they have a lot of wasted time at work, again roughly similar to the results from the United Kingdom (26%) and Germany (20%).


The 35-hour workweek has largely been tied to the issue of lowering French unemployment. French respondents are decidedly sullen about job creation and job prospects. Only 15% of the French say now is a good time to find a job in the city or area where they live, and 24% say they are satisfied with efforts to increase the number and the quality of jobs.

Crime and Security

High unemployment and income inequality, particularly among young people, sparked devastating riots in 2005, elevating crime and security as an issue in the campaign. But the French public appears to have a relatively strong sense of personal security: Sixty-seven percent say they feel safe walking alone at night in their communities, comparable to the 62% found in the United Kingdom and 75% in Germany. Fifteen percent of French respondents say they or family members have had property stolen in the last year, while 6% say they have been personally assaulted or mugged.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with approximately 1,000 adults in each country, aged 15 and older, conducted between December 2006 and January 2007. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.


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