French President’s Popularity Rating Doubles Following Paris Attacks

Francois Hollande
French President Francois Hollande delivers a speech during a New Year ceremony for business and employment sector representatives at the Elysee Palace in Paris, January 19, 2015 Philippe Wojazer/REUTERS

French president François Hollande’s popularity rating has more than doubled in the aftermath of the Parisian jihadist attacks which resulted in the deaths of 17 people, in what polling agency Ifop described as a “rare” and “historic surge”.

President Hollande’s approval rating has improved by 21 points since it was last measured in September and his rating is now at 40% according to the Ifop poll surveying 1,000 French voters over the weekend. Analysts believe this jump is the direct effect of his response to the Islamist attacks in the capital earlier this month, which culminated in him leading the solidarity march of nearly four million people in the streets of Paris on 11th January.

“The increase in François Hollande’s popularity is not like one we have seen before,” Damien Philippot, director of political studies at Ifop said. “In gaining 21 points in the Ifop poll [he]... broke a record previously held by President François Mitterrand, who gained 19 points the day after the start of the war in Iraq in 1991.”

Frédéric Dabi, director of Ifop told French radio station Sud Radio:“It is a most rare phenomenon in the history of opinion polls.”

The poll asked the voters to list which, if any, of seven qualities President Hollande appeared to exhibit. 21% was the average increase in positive responses seen across all seven categories since the last time the poll took place.

The poll showed that Hollande’s new found popularity was somewhat imbalanced. Peole rated him high under categories such as being ‘sympathetic’ (49%) ‘protective’ of French interests (46%) and ‘sincere’ (39%), although he was still rated lower on his authoritativeness and general competence.

However, even his lowest ranked quality - authoritativeness (20%) - experienced a nine point increase since September, meaning the French president’s image has improved across the board in the aftermath of the attacks.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was the voters who lived in Paris where the attacks took place, who consistently rated him higher than any other region of France. The poll also showed that Hollande remains more popular with male voters than female.

Hollande’s prime minister and fellow socialist Manuel Valls also registered an increase in popularity according to Ifop, up 17 points since September, bringing his approval rating to 61%. Valls is one of the most popular politicians in France and his latest approval rating is officially the highest since he came into office in March 2014.

According to Philippot, the support for other leaders has not seen such changes: “Nicolas Sarkozy and Marine Le Pen, for example, have seen their support remain stable. The difference between them and the president of the Republic is that their personal image has not moved the public during the terrorist attacks,” Philippot said.

“The president was successful in uniting the nation and in doing so he has simply won at seeming more like a president [than them],” he added.

According to Ifop’s last poll of all major presidential hopefuls’ popularity in November, 29% of French voters said they would vote for Le Pen, while 26% went for Sarkozy. At 40%, Hollande is now ahead of them both.

“Nicolas Sarkozy is struggling to display himself as a remedy to the problems we face to the extent that the current president seems to be,” said Philippot.

“In turn, Marine Le Pen, saw her public image overshadowed by her lack of participation in the great march on 11th January, failing to register her party for it,” he said, alluding to the Front National leader’s refusal to participate in the march, after voicing her concern that she felt ‘unwanted’ there.

According to Philippot, however, the poll does not necessarily signify a long term shift in Hollande’s popularity, as his ability to tackle unemployment and improve the French economy will continue be high on the list of voters’ priorities closer to the 2017 presidential election.

He also said that the Paris shootings could well play into Marine Le Pen’s hands in the long run, when she is given more time to voice her “communitarian” and “anti-immigration” ideals in the aftermath of the attacks.

“Effectively [Hollande’s] popularity will not necessarily turn into votes,” he added.

French magazine L’Express reported that during the manhunt for the gunmen, both Le Pen and Hollande saw huge surges in the number of their followers on social media, each gaining 18,000 and 10,000 new followers respectively in the first 24 hours of the crisis.