Top French paper drops polls after forecast failures

Top French paper drops polls after forecast failures

Paris (AFP) - A leading French newspaper said Tuesday it had decided to stop using polling groups in a journalistic experiment that follows wide criticism of how voter surveys have failed to forecast recent political shocks.

Le Parisien daily said it would stop commissioning polling group Ipsos and would base its stories in the run-up to this year's presidential election on reporting by its own journalists.

"We have decided, and it was the subject of a lot of debate, to return to the heart of our profession which is working on the ground," the paper's editorial director Stephane Albouy told France Inter radio.

Most media routinely rely on polls -- surveys of hundreds, sometimes thousands of voters by phone or online -- to flag up political trends and tip the leading candidates.

But their credibility suffered in 2016 after pollsters failed to forecast Britain's vote to leave the European Union, Donald Trump's triumph in the US presidential election or the victory of Francois Fillon in a French rightwing primary.

Albouy said newspapers needed to listen to critics who see journalists as being "cut off from reality" while denying that Le Parisien had made errors in frequently publishing polls on its front-page in recent months.

"It's not a question of defying the pollsters but another way of working which we want to test for the rest of the campaign," he told AFP, while not ruling out occasionally reporting polls commissioned by other publications.

- Analysts wrongfooted -

Polling groups say turbulence and technological change in Western democracies, which have been buffeted by mass migration and economic woes, have made their job more difficult. Late swings in sentiment can also wrongfoot analysts.

In November, the bosses of major polling groups wrote a joint column in Le Monde newspaper defending their business after almost all surveys forecast a victory for Hillary Clinton in November's US election.

They admitted that polling was an inexact science, but stressed that the experts responsible for carrying out surveys were always improving their methods.

"Criticism of them (polls) is nothing new and questioning their role in a democracy is legitimate and healthy," they wrote.

"From our point of view, we are convinced of the strong link between polls and democracy and we note that conversely there are no free polls in a totalitarian state or under an authoritarian regime," they added.

French voters will cast ballots in April and in May in a two-round presidential election, followed by parliamentary elections in June.

Polls currently tip the rightwing Republicans candidate Fillon to become president, but he faces fierce competition from the far-right National Front as well as a range of independents and an as-yet-unknown Socialist party challenger.

Manuel Valls, prime minister under unpopular President Francois Hollande until December, unveiled his programme on Tuesday in his bid to clinch the nomination for the Socialist party which will hold its own primary later this month.

The centre-left Valls faces competition from more leftwing opponents, including made-in-France champion, former industry minister Arnaud Montebourg.