Commentary by Eric Dupin
He still enjoys enviable popularity, but the honeymoon is over. [President] Nicolas Sarkozy's ratings are falling, according to most opinion polls. His score varies according to the question asked. It is higher when the emphasis is placed on the president's image rather than the effectiveness of his action.
According to LH2 (footnote: LH2 survey, Liberation 21-22 September,) 66 per cent of French people form a "positive" opinion of Sarkozy. According to Ipsos (footnote: Ipsos-Le Point survey, 5-6 October,) 63 per cent of the people interviewed issue a "favourable" verdict on "Nicolas Sarkozy's action as president." Ifop (footnote: Ifop-Le Journal du Dimanche survey, 13-21 September) tells us that 61 per cent of interviewees are "satisfied" with Sarkozy. In two of these three cases, the president's rating was virtually unchanged from the previous month.
It is lower, by no less than 6-7 points, according to the two other pollsters, who ask more direct questions about the head of state's capabilities. According to TNS (footnote: TNS-Sofres-Le Figaro Magazine survey, 26-27 September,) 57 per cent of French people have "confidence" that the president can "resolve the problems currently facing France." Last, consistently, CSA (footnote: CSA-I Tele-Le Parisien survey, 26-27 September) finds that 55 per cent of interviewees have "confidence" that he will "deal effectively with the major problems confronting the country." The discrepancy between the president's positive personal image and the more reserved assessment of his action is also perceptible in the gap between his own rating and that enjoyed by his prime minister, which is 5-9 points lower.
Nicolas Sarkozy's potential weakness lies in his very particular relationship with public action. The unrest experienced by the majority in recent weeks has stemmed from doubts about the correctness of certain orientations, suspected of being ill adapted to present difficulties ("bankruptcy") or of falling short of the expectations created during the election campaign (the "new departure.") The tensions between the head of state and the prime minister have had to do partly with his mode of action, whether the leeway enjoyed by the prime minister or the pace of reforms.
Sarkozy's very personal style of action exposes him to three kinds of dangers. The first is that of excessive doggedness. The president keeps saying that he was not elected to lounge around at the Elysee [president's office]. His ability to convince the French people that the political authorities can still resolve their problems played a major part in his presidential victory. But his constant reaffirmation of his desire to act does not guarantee the attainment of tangible results. The syndrome of the omnipotence of the president's statements is apparent when the Elysee proposes to "pursue growth, no matter what it takes"...
The risk of yielding to a kind of denial of reality is all the more present inasmuch as Sarkozy displays an astonishing form of rigidity. This leader, who flatters his itself on not being confined to any ideological system, clings feverishly to the promises he made to voters. Again, the new president's attitude contrasts with that of his predecessor. Jacques Chirac drew an extreme distinction between campaign remarks and government action. An enemy of extemporization, and obsessed with the contract concluded with the French people, Sarkozy probably goes too far in the opposite direction. He almost sanctifies what he said as a candidate, which is something he finds it hard to stop being.
This attitude generates a certain dogmatism in public action. "I will pursue this policy against everything," he told majority members of Parliament 3 October. It has also resulted in arguments that have sometimes become tedious through repetition - the recurrent attacks on "single thinking," a monomaniacal insistence on the theme of "labour," formerly "discouraged" and in the future "liberated," elevated to the status of a universal solution to the country's ills. A third fault lies in the excessive confidence that Sarkozy places in the virtues of media coverage. The head of state has for some time already theorized communication as a precondition for action. It cannot replace it, however. Sarkozy is here the victim of his own talent for self-justification, which was again demonstrated in his televised address 20 September. The impact on certain opinion polls was immediate. But the French people are ever less deceived by this omnipresence. "He is everywhere and nowhere a! t the same time," according to one interviewee cited by Ifop. Even in these days of mediatized democracy, reality always has the last word.