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The World: Pressure on the Pollsters

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Facing critical legislative elections next February, French President Georges Pompidou’s Gaullist coalition was unpleasantly surprised last week by two new polls showing the government sagging in public esteem. SOFRES, for Société Française d’ Enquêtes par Sondages, reported the Gaullists trailing the parties of the united left, 42% to 43%. The rival I.F.O.P for Institute Françios d’Opinion Publique, gave the ruling coalition 48% of the vote. The figures reflected a weaker position for the Gaullists than at any time in Pompidou’s four-year administration. The polls intensified the troubles of a government already buffeted by scandals of tax avoidance and influence peddling in high places, a disappointing referendum last spring on the expansion of the Common Market, and political polarization that has united Communists and socialists for the first time in 35 years.

Along with trying to improve their standing, Gaullists last week turned on the pollsters. Maurice Druon, a French Academy member who campaigned for the ill-fated referendum, condemned the polls as “manipulation.” Achille Peretti, National Assembly president, publicly asked the pollsters to cease and desist 15 days or a month before the vote. Both I.F.O.P. and SOFRES reported mounting pressure to stop polls immediately before the voting and during the week that divides the first ballot of the French elections from the final runoff vote, a time when political parties traditionally make their deals on the basis of which seats may change hands.

At first the pollsters vowed defiance. The I.F.O.P. polling director, Mme. Jeanne Labrousse, insisted that “there’s nothing to the idea that polling decisively influences voting.” But then both polling agencies, who receive roughly a quarter of their funds from public revenues, bowed to the pressure. I.F.O.P. abandoned plans to publish a final poll the day before the first ballot, and SOFRES said that it would probably eliminate between-ballot analysis.

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