Every day that brings the citizen-voter closer to the first round of the presidential election, Sunday, April 10, brings bad news to the citizen-consumer. Thursday, March 31, INSEE revealed that inflation had reached 4.5% over one year in March, driven by rising energy and food prices. Not good for household morale!
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The day before, the same institute had reported that the confidence indicator was in free fall. The share of French people believing that the price spike will last reached in March “his highest level ever recorded” since the introduction of this index in 1972!
It is in this context that the discount of 15 to 18 cents at the pump decided by the government (1) comes into effect this Friday 1er April at all service stations. What relieve the consumer a little, while the average price of a liter of diesel reached €2.12 and that of SP95-E10 gasoline, €1.98. However, this will not eliminate the effect of inflation on the ballot that haunts this end of the campaign.
A first alert had already taken place six months ago. With the “whatever it takes” – the opening of the public spending tap to deal with the health crisis – and the good vaccination coverage of the population, the economic recovery then announced itself to be stronger than expected, causing a surge in the prices of gasoline, fuel oil , gas and electricity. And leading Prime Minister Jean Castex, on October 21, to grant exceptional aid of €100 for 38 million French people.
The issue transcends partisan divisions
Opinion studies show that purchasing power was at the top of French people’s concerns at that time, but at a moderate level. The government still hoped that the inflationary surge would be cyclical. However, the prospect of a new epidemic wave with the Omicron variant forced him to decide, on December 18, to set up the vaccination pass in January. The health issue is thus returning to the concerns of the French until the start of the year. Before the crash of war.
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From the invasion of Ukraine on February 22, purchasing power has become a major issue in the election. “It is striking to note how the situation has changed extremely quicklynotes Antoine Bristielle, director of the opinion observatory of the Jean-Jaurès Foundation. The issue of purchasing power transcends partisan divisions. »
Brice Teinturier, Deputy CEO of Ipsos, emphasizes above all the potential electoral impact of the theme. “The war in Ukraine worries the citizens but it will not necessarily count much in their choice, unlike purchasing power which appears to be the subject which they will take into account. »
This strong comeback of purchasing power already seems to have created winners and losers, especially on the far right where the match between Marine Le Pen and Éric Zemmour has clearly turned in favor of the National Rally candidate. The polemicist had established himself at the end of the summer as the surprise guest of the presidential election, focusing his entire campaign on the identity crisis and the cultural decline of the country. “He did not realize the growing issue of purchasing power”, analysis Brice Teinturier.
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The director of Ipsos draws a broader political lesson: “For years, a theory, pushed in particular by Patrick Buisson, tends to say that a political victory is played on sovereign themes because it is only there that the State still has margins of power. But whatever the cost has shown the opposite. When we want we can. The French retained the message. »
Marine Le Pen has dug the furrow
Unlike Eric Zemmour, Marine Le Pen is digging her furrow in September on the theme of the economic difficulties of households and she will not deviate from it. She promises to renationalize the highways, to abolish the audiovisual license fee. Of all the political programs presented in recent weeks, that of the far-right candidate is, if not credible, one of the most proactive.
It announces that it will lower VAT from 20% to 5.5% on fuel, fuel oil, gas and electricity. It will reindex pensions on inflation, will exempt from tax the income of young people up to 30 years old. On the left, Jean-Luc Mélenchon is not to be outdone, promising to block the prices of basic necessities (fruits and vegetables, pasta, hygiene, fuel, etc.) or to raise the minimum wage to €1,400 net. These two candidates have recorded the strongest increase in voting intentions in recent days – while being, it is important to emphasize, at levels lower than those of 2017 at the same election deadline.
After having experienced a peak beyond 30%, Emmanuel Macron is experiencing a slight decline. The fear of an extension of the war in Ukraine has subsided somewhat. And his commitment to the postponement of the legal retirement age to 65 years has been added to an anxiety-provoking economic context, notes Brice Teinturier.
→ REPORT. “I had to make concessions”: in Lozère, motorists overwhelmed by fuel prices
The majority, however, has not spared the announcements in recent weeks. Revaluation of the mileage scale for people using their vehicle for professional purposes (February 4); revaluation of pensions for the wives of farmers (February 10); extension of the tariff shield on gas (February 16); thaw of the index point in the public service (March 14)… Valérie Pécresse, who already accused in the fall of the president of “burn the cash register”, now gives itself the package on purchasing power, promising in particular a 3% increase in net wages (10% in the long term).
No candidate “owns” the issue
All of the candidates thus seem to share this idea: unlike in the fall, it seems certain that we are no longer in a short-term inflation situation. “The return to the European rule of 3% budget deficit is not a priority, it should be postponed from 2023 to 2024”anticipates Mathieu Plane, deputy director of the OFCE.
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Still, the escalation of measures can be dangerous. The economist points out, for example, that an increase in the minimum wage will have knock-on effects on inflation. The ecologist Yannick Jadot underlined the injustice of the discount at the pump, from this 1er April, which will benefit the driver of a large SUV more than that of a small engine. Others point to the anti-social measures of Marine Le Pen’s program, such as the non-taxation of young people, which will not concern modest backgrounds not subject to tax.
The last days of the campaign, and those between the two rounds, should be played on the economic ground. For an uncertain outcome, warns Antoine Bristielle. “No candidate alone ‘owns’ the issue of purchasing power, to the point of capturing the vote of all the people who would be concerned about it. »
Inflation at 4.5%
Inflation reached 4.5% in France over one year in March, according to provisional data published Thursday, March 31 by INSEE.
The rise is mainly due to energy prices (+28.9% over one year) and, to a lesser extent, fresh food products (+7.2%).
The cost of services progressed much more modestly, at 2.3% over one year.
Minimum wage will mechanically increase the 1er May, between 2.4% and 2.6%.
France is less affected than Spain (where the increase was 9.8% over one year in March) and Germany (+7.3%).
This is due in particular to the aid put in place by the government (inflation allowance, tariff shield on gas and electricity). In February, this aid made it possible to limit inflation to 1.5 points.