Hollande Popularity Sinks Below 20% on Affair, Unemployment

French President Francois Hollande’s approval rating fell below 20 percent for the first time since his May 2012 election, a poll today showed.

The record-low unpopularity reflects the turmoil in his personal life and unemployment that has reached a 16-year high, the TNS Sofres opinion poll for Le Figaro Magazine showed. Hollande’s approval rating this month was at 19 percent, down 3 percentage points from January, according to the poll.

Twenty-one months into his mandate, Hollande’s popularity rating is lower than that of his predecessors Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac. At this point in their mandates, Sarkozy’s rating stood at 37 percent, Chirac’s at 35 percent. The record-low rating for any president in a TNS Sofres poll was for Chirac at 16 percent in July 2006, when he had been in office for 11 years and was nearing the end of his second term.

Hollande’s popularity slide comes as he prepares to make his first state visit to the U.S. next week. The 59-year-old president has been struggling to stem France’s record joblessness after two years with barely any economic growth.

The president was last month drawn into a public controversy after weekly magazine Closer revealed his affair with French actress Julie Gayet, 41, in a Jan. 10 photo spread on the liaison. The report led Hollande to formally announce on Jan. 25 that he was breaking up with his companion and France’s First Lady Valerie Trierweiler.

Hollande has never married, although he had been in a long-term relationship with Trierweiler. Before that, he was with former French presidential candidate Segolene Royal, the mother of his four children. The two were not married.

The TNS survey was completed between Jan. 31 and Feb. 3 and was based on interviews with 1,000 respondents aged 18 and more.

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