Powerful Character Will Decide the French Presidential Elections

12 Apr 2012|Added Value

On Sunday, the French went to the polls in the first round of the country’s presidential elections. As with any election, a number of factors will influence the final popular vote. Beyond the candidates’ political agendas, voters will tend to support the personality they most think will deliver the leadership they desire.

To understand the traits of the nation’s ideal president – and how the prospective candidates stack up – Added Value (WPP), a global brand development and marketing insight consultancy, conducted a survey on the character of each of the candidates, using the consultancy’s proprietary quantitative tool, CharacterLab™.  The tool is typically used to test, define and measure brand character and uses the archetype theory of 20th century psychiatrist, Carl Jung. Jung’s theory postulated that every personality can be decoded within an intelligible and universal classification system.

In this instance, Added Value used the tool to decode voter perceptions about each of the French candidates to indentify how powerful and persuasive their characters will be in winning over voters. Respondents were asked to share their perceptions on their ideal president as well as their views on Nicolas Sarkozy, François Hollande, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, François Bayrou, Eva Joly, and Marine Le Pen.

The nation’s ideal leader
The results revealed that the French have a clear idea of the qualities and character traits their ideal president should have.  This ideal candidate would evidence a combination of Hero, Nurturer and Sage archetype traits.  This suggests that the French are looking for a candidate who knows how to solve complex problems, someone who is intelligent, courageous and capable of working under pressure. Moreover, they imagine a president who is altruistic, can protect the citizenry and is ready to fight for a great cause at any time.

This ideal president is, in a sense, a surgeon of modern times. A person with distinguished leadership qualities, who uses the competences they have to help others. But more than a great technician, voters expect the president to be wise and to have a vision for France.

So, how are the individual candidates perceived by the French?
The incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy (Right Wing), appears to be a man with responsibilities, who imposes his rule. Courage, expertise and a capacity to lead are strong traits of his personality, which combines a strong Hero archetype with the secondary archetype of the Ruler. But this combination also suggest a warrior’s temperament, and a man defending his interests at all costs in the manner of a lord or a king.  The flip side of this means that Sarkozy runs the risk of being seen as the kind of feudal lord or tyrant who protects the interests of his class, but not those of the common man.

François Hollande (Left Wing), on the other hand, distinguishes himself from Sarkozy with more of the personality that combines the traits of the Regular Guy and Nurturer archetypes. He is like the country doctor: he protects and cures, while remaining accessible and close to people. He is also defined by his courage and a level of expertise in his field of competence.  However, this strong Regular Guy traits present a challenge: to voters he seems to lack leadership qualities and commitment.  A clear issue for a presidential challenger.

Marine Le Pen (Extreme Right Wing) stands out in her accessibility and proximity to the people (Regular Guy), but also in her courage and leadership (Hero). She has a personality that corresponds to a popular hero-figure like a fireman. But the shadow side of the popular Hero is that they are capable of using any means necessary to achieve their aims. Le Pen’s use of populist discourse to gain attention and support is an example of this.

Nicolas Sarkozy, François Hollande and Marine Le Pen

As for Jean-Luc Mélenchon (Extreme Left Wing), he is perceived as a raw and unpolished Hero, with Rebel tendancies. For some, this means he is seen as a Robin Hood, and for others the perception is of a pirate.  This combination is tricky in politics; the Rebel might be well placed to shake things up, but is not always trusted with leadership and responsibility.

François Bayrou (Center) is perceived predominantly as a Regular Guy archetype, someone we feel close to, a good neighbor and a good citizen.  With secondary Sage characteristics, he is also a little like the teacher of the group, to whom qualities like compassion and wisdom are attributed.  Interestingly, this candidate is the only one who shows evidence of the Sage and Nurturer characteristics desired by the French voters in their ideal president.  But combined with such strong and primary Regular Guy traits, it’s unlikely Bayrou will inspire voters enough to select him beyond the first round of voting.

Finally, Eva Joly (Ecologist) presents an archetype combination of Nurturer and Innocent. As such, while she distinguishes herself through her altruism and concern for great causes, she also appears naïve and idealistic. She is perceived as an older sister, who wants to defend others by placing her personal interests to one side.  Joly might inspire people with her vision and care, but her Innocent traits will be tough for voters to trust in such a high leadership position.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, François Bayrou and Eva Joly

So, what are the issues at stake in the 2012 elections?
Irrespective their political orientation, French voters all agree that their ideal president must combine the qualities of the Hero (leadership), the Sage (competence) and the Nurturer (general interest). In short, a kind of humanist surgeon.

Even though the three archetypes the French associate with their ideal president are the same irrespective of who they intend to vote for, the relative importance of each varies according to a person’s political orientations.

Nicolas Sarkozy supporters prioritize leadership over qualities such as protection or compassion, and want a strong leader, one who is almost authoritarian.

On the other hand, François Hollande supporters attribute particular importance to the values of protection, honesty and proximity.

And for those who declare that they will not vote for either, or who are undecided about the second round, proximity and protection are the values that stand out. Here, Hollande has the edge, but will it be enough to swing voters to his side?

What conclusions can we draw?
To convince those who are undecided, François Hollande would do well to develop his image as a more determined leader, in order to change his status from country doctor to something closer to the Head of Department.  He should consider taking on some of the Hero qualities he is lacking.

The opposite is true of Nicolas Sarkozy, who will likely find it difficult to display the Nurturer traits of accessibility and thoughtfulness. His strategy, then, might be to reinforce his expertise and competence as head of state (Sage traits), and distinguish himself from the competition as a candidate-president who uses his competences, intelligence and experience to serve the French.

Finally, it’s worth nothing that only one of the six main candidates in the presidential elections shows any of the Sage traits desired by the French. This archetype that stems from the desire to find absolute truth: objectivity, expertise, wisdom, and culture. While it’s unlikely François Bayrou will make it through the first round, it will be interesting to see if the poll favourites, Sarkozy and Hollande, manage to dial up any of these traits in the second round to pull in those undecided French votes when it really counts.

About the Study
To conduct this survey of 1,209 people, we used CharacterLab™, an online quantitative research tool developed by Added Value. During the survey, each respondent had to describe the personality of their ideal president, and subsequently the personality of one of the following six candidates: Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Eva Joly, François Hollande, François Bayrou, Nicolas Sarkozy and Marine Le Pen.


Added Value have used this tool to conduct a number of studies for brands in the automotive, agri-food, telecommunications, technology, and banking sectors, in Europe and across the world.

Written by Arnaud Dutilh, Project Director, Added Value France

Image source: Thinkstock / Item number:178836617 / Photographer: Vepar5

prev next