31 July 2020

Quick Take – French government reshuffle

The French elections are a good sneak-peek into the new horizons of post-Covid campaigning.

In June, local elections juxtaposed Emmanuel Macron, a reformer-in-name-only and his push for post-Covid reopening against his Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, the mayor-of-the-people and his cautious, safety-first approach, setting up a competition that finally led to the latter’s ousting.

The most recent polls, highlighting President Macron’s plummeting, and ex-PM Philippe’s historic popularity (a difference of 12 points), draw attention to yet another casualty from the coronavirus pandemic: the old adage that the economy is (almost) always the primary concern of voters.

While Macron was pushing for reopening and fast economic recovery, Philippe took a very public stance for more caution. And as a further insult to president Macron, the ever-careful Greens – a previously minor partner of the Socialists – have swept local councils across the country in a clear no-confidence vote in the President’s current agenda, more focused on wealth creation.

This French episode suggests a new formula for engaging political prioritisation that will also be tested in the US presidential election this fall: “it’s the healthcare/environment, stupid” and no longer “it’s the economy, stupid”.

Economy and Healthcare: plus or versus?

When Bill Clinton’s strategist James Carville came up with this now infamous line in 1992, he aimed to challenge George H. W. Bush’s foreign policy record and shift public debate towards the country’s economic performance instead.

Less-well remembered, ironically, are two additional rules, supposed to guide the Clinton campaign: “change vs. more of the same” and… “don’t forget healthcare”. An issue that looked like a mere addendum back then, but which is now front and centre, as more than half a million people lost their lives to Covid-19 globally, and 30,000 in France, to date.

By Aurelien Raspiengeas and Dominykas Milasius

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