What do young voters want?
Definitely my weirdest experience of covering this French election campaign was at a UMP youth rally a couple of weeks ago, watching a series of well-groomed young people, most of whom didn't look old enough to vote at all, writing their messages of support (and declarations of love) to the President with marker pens on a white wall, and queueing up to have their photos taken with a cardboard cut out of their hero. Unfortunately for him, these cravat-wearing heirs of France's ruling class are far from typical of their age group - two thirds of under 30s voted socialist in 2007. Polls now indicate their preferences might have swung in some rather less orthodox directions - one this week had Marine le Pen as the preferred candidate for 18-25 year olds, while numerous others say large chunks of the young don't plan to vote at all. This risk of record low turnout worries both major parties - this week saw a unlikely political spat over driving licences as both Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande both promised to make them cheaper to get, in a fairly blatant bid for the young vote. They've got concrete policies aimed at that age group too - Hollande's put them at the heart of his campaign, offering to cut charges for employers hiring them, while Sarkozy promised a youth bank to help them finance study or starting a business. Nevertheless, a poll for today's l'Humanité said 73% of the young are 'disappointed with all the candidates'.
Young people, though, don't constitute any more of a homogenous vote than any other age group, and they aren't all avoiding the polls for the same reasons either. A clever bit of polling from Liberation recently divided them into four groups; the 'prosystem' 22% - that's the polo shirted middle-class kids who want to see Sarkozy re-elected, and tend to be very well educated and optimistic about their futures; the 32% who want to see things change, sympathise with the Occupy movement, and feel their generation has been ripped off by their elders - they choose left wing candidates Hollande or Jean-Luc Melenchon, but also Marine le Pen, an example of how she's managed to make her party presentable, partly by stealing a lot of the economic clothes of the left; the 17% who really aren't interested in politics at all; and the 29% of often unemployed or low income youth who say they're completely disenchanted and unlikely to vote at all - or if they do, for you guessed it, Marine le Pen. Her poll numbers are actually falling consistently among voters as a whole, but her mix of a fresh and engaging image with rhetoric placing her as the defender of ordinary people against a rapacious system is playing well with impressionable young people who don't remember her father's anti-Semitic rants. It's this temptation towards extremism - or abstention - that the main parties are doing everything to fight. I went to meet some of their youth leaders, to find out how they do it.
For more of me on French politics, check out Campaign Chronicles, every morning at 9:50 Paris time on France24.