In the U.S., newly elected presidents receive a hundred-day ‘honeymoon’ before reality starts to bite both the president and the electorate, bringing the poll ratings down to normal levels. One needs only to witness the drop in Barack Obama’s poll ratings from the stratospheric levels of early 2009 to the more reasonable levels of the end of that very year.
France is no exception. Newly elected French President François Hollande is currently enjoying a very favorable opinion-poll rating. A recent poll pegs him as having a sixty-one percent approval rating, a comfortable percentage and one that will undoubtedly spur Hollande on to enact key electoral promises. However, is this poll really reflective of Hollande’s performance? Or does it imbue the fact that France is still slightly over misty-eyed about its new president?
In fairness to the new president, he has had a very busy few weeks. He has held crisis talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel; formed a new government and nominated a prime minister; met with G8 leaders in Washington, DC; and held high-level talks on the future of France’s military involvement in Afghanistan, during a NATO summit in Chicago.
All this is just the tip of the iceberg however, as Hollande still has to reduce France’s budget deficit, tackle key socio-economic issues such as unemployment and urgently seek consensus among EU nations on how to solve the growing Greek crisis. Yet it seems, that the French people are broadly agreeing with all Hollande’s policies and actions, so far.
The answer to whether this will last or whether the energy of a newly minted French president fizzles out is more prosaic but very French. France is a beautiful country in summertime, the terraces will be full to overflowing and many French will take the months of July and August off. May was a heady month, but June will signal the beginning of the holiday season. It is likely that many people will not be thinking about politics for the next few months. Therefore, Hollande will remain high in the polls for the forthcoming few months, as sunglasses are donned along with the rose-tinted glasses, over the long summer.
It will be as the cold autumn sets in and the inevitable fiscal tightening occurs, that disillusionment with Hollande will set in. Whatever his popular promises, it is likely that Hollande will be forced over the course of the summer to slowly ditch his plans to hire more civil-servants and teachers, planned increases in state spending, and it is also possible that he will have to backtrack on his withdrawal plans from NATO operations in Afghanistan.
France, as Mr. Hollande undoubtedly knows, faces tough choices ahead. It is a country at a crossroads, and has to decide on which road is best for the long term. It may be the road to public-spending austerity of other nations such as the UK and Germany. Or, will it be that of superfluous and indefinable concept of economic ‘growth,’ which is untried and largely unknown. The latter is a path, which if it works, will bring more rewards for Hollande than enacting the unpopular austerity measures. But will it be an economically viable one?
It seems therefore that Hollande still has a few months before fully deciding on which chalice to drink. Whether it will be poisoned or not, will be told by the opinion polls in six months time.