A breakthrough opinion poll shows Nicolas Sarkozy has surpassed his main challenger for the centre-Right presidential nomination while President Hollande launches a media campaign to improve his miserable approval ratings.
Nicolas Sarkozy’s hopes of regaining power were improved on Sunday as a key opinion poll showed him for the first time with a strong lead over his main rival for the centre-Right presidential nomination.
Previous polls had placed his conservative challenger, the popular former prime minister, Alain Juppé, in the lead. But Mr Sarkozy’s prospects improved immensely after leading his UMP party to victory in national council elections last month. Mr Sarkozy returned to active politics as party chairman last year but his re-launch faltered amid criticism that his policy announcements were ambiguous.
His implication in a number of ongoing corruption investigations into campaign financing compounded his problems, causing doubts about his chances of winning the UMP nomination in a vote next year before the 2017 election.
The IFOP poll for the Journal du Dimanche newspaper now shows 42 per cent of centre-Right voters favour Mr Sarkozy as presidential candidate, with 33 per cent backing Mr Juppé. Mr Sarkozy is more popular with white-collar and other workers, while Mr Juppé has greater support amongst voters over 50.
Mr Sarkozy took a break from active politics after losing power in 2012 to François Hollande, who soon became France’s most disliked post-war president amid discontent over rising unemployment and the motionless economy.
Eight of 10 voters are “unhappy” or “very unhappy” with Mr Hollande, according to another poll published on Sunday. Struggling to win back public confidence, the president made a lengthy two-hour appearance on a TV talk show on Sunday – part of a media bombardment in the run-up to the third anniversary of his election victory.
Amusing interludes gave him a chance to show the sense of humour he is known for in private, although in public his manner is always serious. Asked if he had a “double personality”, he said it was his duty to look serious before the nation: “I don’t want to make a spectacle of myself”. He managed to raise a few laughs with brief jokes, and smiled when others poked fun at him.
Initially, he seemed somewhat taken aback when told his suits were not as well cut as those of his predecessors. But he recovered and joked: “As president, I can choose my own suits” – a reference to his much-parodied listing of promises in a 2012 pre-election debate with Mr Sarkozy, beginning each pledge with the words “Moi, président”. Ed Miliband apparently copied the format in his TV debate with leaders of smaller parties as he outlined what he would do if he became prime minister.
Apolline de Malherbe, a political commentator on BFM TV, said Mr Hollande had purposely chosen to take part in an unconventional programme on the Canal+ cable TV channel in an effort to reach out to young people, who are particularly dissatisfied with his presidency.
“He chose a programme where style is more important than substance because there are more failures than successes,” she said. The studio sequences were combined with short video clips showing Mr Hollande meeting American businessmen and finalising negotiations with India for the sale of fighter jets.
He played down the rise of the far-right Front National, which he blamed in part on the slowness of the governmental process. He said the economic policies of its leader, Marine Le Pen, sounded “like a Communist Party tract from the 1970s”.
However, her niece, the Front National MP, Marion Maréchal Le Pen, is increasingly popular, with 40 per cent of French voters now viewing her favourably, according to another poll released on Sunday. Even if that leaves 59 per cent holding a “bad opinion” of her, it is a remarkable approval rating for the 25-year-old blonde, who is France’s youngest MP and further to the right than her aunt.