One year on, Macron is unloved but unrivalled

Paris (AFP) –


A year after his lightning march to power, French President Emmanuel Macron's reformist zeal has endeared him to part of the electorate but polls show him as still unloved by most of the country.

"If there is one thing on which the French agree it is that the president is taking action. Where they disagree is on (the merit) of those actions," said Jean-Daniel Levy, a researcher at Harris Interactive pollsters.

After a dizzying rise to France's highest office, Macron suffered a sharp drop in popularity when he began to push through changes to labour law last September that make hiring and firing easier.

After just 100 days in office, his support had fallen from a post-election high of 64 percent to 36 percent in an Ifop poll.

That was lower than even his unpopular Socialist predecessor Francois Hollande at the same point in his presidency.

But in recent months his approval ratings have inched back up to 40-45 percent, higher than Hollande's and on a par with right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy who ruled from 2007 to 2012.

Such a turnaround is unusual for French presidents, said Chloe Morin, a leading pollster at the Fondation Jean-Jaures think tank.

"People seem prepared to give him time," she told AFP.

- Unpopular rivals -

Despite this perceived bout of patience, French voters on the whole view Macron negatively, even though economic growth is rising and unemployment has fallen since the election last May.

An Ipsos/Sopra Steria survey published on Wednesday showed that, a year after his election, nearly two-thirds of voters -- 64 percent -- are disappointed with his performance.

But as consolation, Macron need only look at the ratings of his main political rivals, who have been unable to mount a serious challenge to his agenda since last year's presidential and parliamentary elections.

On his march to the Elysee Palace, Macron trampled the centre-left Socialists and centre-right Republicans, while far-right leader Marine Le Pen emerged weakened after her defeat.

An April 25 Ipsos poll showed only 26 percent of voters having a positive view of firebrand leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon, ahead of Le Pen on 24 percent and the right-wing leader of the main opposition Republicans, Laurent Wauquiez, on 17 percent.

"We have a president who is not very popular but his popularity is huge compared to his opponents," said Bruno Jeanbart of the polling company OpinionWay.

- Good ambassador for France -

While his overall poll numbers have see-sawed, voters' views on Macron's strengths and weaknesses have remained broadly stable.

He is seen as a man with a vision for transforming France and a defender of free trade and multilateralism.

But the former investment banker is also viewed as far removed from the everyday concerns of his fellow citizens -- an image forged in part by his programme of tax cuts, which have chiefly benefitted the wealthy.

An Elabe poll in late March showed 74 percent of voters judging his policies to be "unfair", with 77 percent saying they were contributing to divisions in the country.

Where he has outperformed expectations is on the international stage.

Before his election Macron's opponents warned that the 40-year-old would struggle to defend French interests in an era of strongman politics.

But by hosting Russia's Vladimir Putin and America's Donald Trump for visits in his first two months -- and standing up to Trump over his decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord -- he "very quickly established his presidential stature", Jeanbart said.

- No 'concrete improvement' -

Back home Macron's tough line on immigration -- he plans to speed up deportations of economic migrants without visas -- and pro-business agenda have cost him support on the left.

Voters on the right, by contrast, have been impressed by his refusal to climb down in the face of protests.

For Elabe pollster Bernard Sananes, with "no victory yet to his name" Macron is still being judged on his goals rather than his results.

"The wave of optimism that followed the presidential election is slowly fizzling," Sananes told Les Echos newspaper.

"The French see that the economic situation is better overall but they have not yet seen a concrete improvement in their own situation," he added.