Across Europe, leaders such as Giuseppe Conte or Angela Merkel have enjoyed higher than normal approval ratings in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. In France, however, respondents have been less generous in their assessment of their government’s performance and have negatively judged President Macron’s response to the pandemic. To better understand changes in French public opinion, Redfield & Wilton Strategies conducted three polls in France: one in March when the country was entering lockdown, one in May when restrictions were being lifted and a third in June as life was slowly returning to normal.
We found that whilst a majority of French respondents continue to believe that the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak has fallen short. However, the majority that is critical of the government’s response has decreased: in March, 68% of respondents stated that the government’s actions had fallen short against 54% in June, constituting a gap of 14-points.
In particular, whilst in March a staggering 61% of those who had voted for Macron in the 2017 Presidential elections expressed their disapproval of the government, by June this figure fell to about a third of Macron voters. Such initial disapproval may well be the result of France’s shortage of masks or the government’s confusing communication in the early days of the pandemic. Yet, many have argued that despite low approval ratings, France has fared comparatively better than its neighbours in handling the crisis, imposing a lockdown a week before its British counterpart for instance.
In the early days of the pandemic, President Macron enjoyed overall personal support for his handling of the coronavirus (49%) even though his approval ratings were comparatively lower than his European colleagues. Just two months later, in May, however, support drastically changed as only 27% of respondents approved of his handling of the crisis. This shift has remained somewhat consistent in June (30%) although our findings show a slight recovery in approval ratings for President Macron.
Indeed, while a majority of respondents in June said that President Macron’s handling of the coronavirus crisis has not changed their view of his presidency, it should be noted that around a third of respondents stated that they now have a more negative view of the President.
Of particular concern for French voters is the state of the country’s economy following the lockdown. Indeed, we found that a majority (58%) of respondents answered that they were pessimistic about the future of the economy in France.
Roughly a third of those who had voted for President Macron’s party in 2017 shared such pessimism. As forecasts of the contraction in the economy for 2020 become more widespread this pessimism and shift in concerns is likely to increase.
Perhaps even more worrying for the President, 48% of French voters do not believe that Emmanuel Macron is someone who can get the economy going again. Back in 2017, Macron presented his candidacy on a platform of economic liberalism.
Respondents also consider Macron untruthful, unconcerned by their needs, unleaderlike and unable to unite the French people. All these traits suggest his character remains disliked by a large portion of French society.
Lastly, the French public’s general exasperation and scepticism is revealed by the public’s disapproval of opposition figures such as Marine le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon – 40% and 46% respectively. This disapproval is a key element of our findings: Given that none of Macron’s possible opponents are much more popular than he is, his path to re-election, at this moment in time, does not necessarily depend on building a groundswell of mass popularity, but rather on ensuring he has a sufficient enough base of support to pass through the first round. Interestingly, we found a similar trend in Spain where both Prime Minister Sanchez (44%) and opposition leader Pablo Casado (51%) share roughly the same levels of disapproval.