Hollande Rivals May Be His Trump Card in 2017 Presidential Race

Francois Hollande may be down, but he’s far from out.

Written off just three months into office as a one-term wonder, Hollande’s popularity remains close to rock bottom. Yet two years out from elections, he’s showing signs of gearing up for a second term. With his main rival almost as unpopular as he is, pollsters say he might have a shot.

“The 2017 presidential race is wide open and Hollande stands a chance,” said Esteban Pratviel, a pollster at Ifop in Paris. “The economy is his weak spot, but if he can manage to reverse the unemployment trend, that would give him a boost.”

At the end of August 2012, Hollande was France’s most unpopular leader ever after 100 days on the job. Recent surveys by Ifop and Odoxa show a whopping 78 percent of French people have a poor opinion of his time in office and 77 percent don’t want him to run for a second term.

His old adversaries Nicolas Sarkozy and Marine Le Pen have also entered the -- unofficial –- 2017 presidential race, making it a rerun of the 2012 competition. An Odoxa poll last month showed 72 percent of voters don’t want Sarkozy to run either.

Le Pen, meanwhile, has been kept busy by internal wrangling within the far-right National Front, including a messy dispute with her father and party founder Jean-Marie.

“Hollande is despised and Sarkozy is hated,” said Celine Bracq of Paris-based pollster Odoxa. “It’s a sad line-up so far for the 2017 campaign.”

Threat of Charges

Despite a change of party name and a social media campaign against Hollande’s economic policies, Sarkozy’s candidacy is dogged by the threat of criminal charges from a case involving the alleged bribing of a magistrate. And for all of Le Pen’s attempts to distance herself from hard-liners, her anti-immigration party is unlikely to win over many wavering Socialist voters.

Hollande’s own chances are clouded by joblessness that is at a record and a recovery that remains anemic at best.

France’s unemployment rate dropped for the first time in more than a year in the first quarter and the economy is set to expand more than 1 percent this year, roughly double the pace of the past three years, according to forecasts by three international institutions.

That rebound “isn’t strong enough,” according to Societe Generale economist Michel Martinez.

That hasn’t stopped Hollande from shifting into campaign mode. His agenda says it all.

Campaign Agenda

A May 20 visit to an ice-cream factory near Carcassonne in southern France –- partly rescued from bankruptcy by the Socialist regional government –- turned into the setting for an hour-long speech, heavily referencing the themes of his 2012 campaign. He made another appearance Thursday at the Fralib tea-bag factory near Marseille, which fought, with Hollande’s help, closure by Unilever in 2011.

With visits to the national rugby championship final and Bordeaux’s giant wine fair already on the books, French voters are set to see a lot more of Hollande in the run-up to 2017, whether they like it or not.

“Hollande is busy creating a story of what he’s done and who he is,” said Odoxa’s Bracq. “However, it could backfire because voters may be unhappy to see him distracted from his main job: getting the economy back on track.”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE