Opinion polls got Brexit wrong last year and missed Donald Trump’s spectacular rise in the U.S. presidential race. In light of those failures, a prominent Paris newspaper has taken a stand in covering France’s presidential elections this spring: no more polling.
The Parisien newspaper plans to send more reporters to talk to people outside France’s factories, in its dim bars and in places where journalists rarely go, Editor Stéphane Albouy said Tuesday. France faces a contentious election over issues similar to those that riled the U.S. presidential campaign: a strident, anti-immigrant, populist surge, questions about whether the political center is still relevant, and deep anxiety about migration and a changing economy.
Le Parisien’s answer, Albouy said, will be to talk to people about their fears.
“Instead of just talking about the errors and faults in polls, we have decided to return to the core of our profession,” Albouy told France Inter radio. “That is to say: the field. We want proximity. It is that way of working that we want to keep going forward.”
The decision will save “a couple dozen million euros” that the newspaper spends on polling, Albouy said. But he said the newspaper will spend even more than that on sending more people into the field.
“It is about detecting what we call today the weak signals. We will spend time with people, talk with them,” Albouy said. “What does it cost, beside energy, time and a bit of money to pass some time at the exits of factories, popular neighborhoods, et cetera? To take time to talk with people. That is in the end our job.”
The French election will be held in two rounds in April and May, and the far-right leader Marine Le Pen is almost certain to make it to the second round – if opinion polls are to be trusted. Le Pen promises to be a voice for white, Christian French voters who want to turn back the clock on generations of immigration to the country from North Africa and the Middle East.
Although opinion polls forecast that Le Pen will lose to the center-right candidate, François Fillon, most French political observers say the biggest lesson of the past year is not to place too much trust in the polling. Le Pen says she is running on behalf of people who have been marginalized for decades, whom opinion polls might miss. And Fillon himself rose out of nowhere, beating former president Nicolas Sarkozy in a primary election that was cast as a two-way race between Sarkozy and another rival.
Ahead of Trump’s Nov. 8 electoral college victory, the president-elect also pushed back against opinion polling, which missed his rise in Wisconsin and Michigan and underestimated his support nationwide.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Michael Birnbaum