French President saw his approval ratings jump after his firm handling of the Charlie Hebdo killings in January and may find them rising again in the next popularity poll after last week’s Paris massacre.
But his polling between periods where he can shine as commander in chief has been so low there is no guarantee another bump in the polls will help him in the longer run toward reelection in 2017.
Decisiveness on the diplomatic and military front might actually hurt him by casting a spotlight on his disappointing record at home, where he has not been able to significantly dent France’s high unemployment or budget deficit.
“We’ll certainly see a rise in popularity,” political scientist Pascal Perrineau said after Hollande ordered French fighter jets to bomb Islamic State’s bastion of Raqqa in Iraq in response to the bloody attacks it claimed as its own.
“The much harder question to answer is whether this will translate into popularity at the ballot box…The deep springs of social and economic discontent are still there, this hasn’t erased them.”
Once worry about militant attacks subsides, “economic concerns will come back to the fore” said Gael Sliman of the Odoxa polling institute.
Opinion polls this year don’t augur well for Hollande. His popularity jumped from 24 to 34 per cent in January after he led a march of world leaders denouncing the killing of 17 people at Charlie Hebdo magazine and a Jewish supermarket.
Then they slid, falling to 20 per cent by October – his lowest level this year although that is above the 12 per cent recorded in November 2014.
The gap between Hollande’s unexpectedly aggressive stand on military affairs and his domestic leadership was the topic of several televised discussions earlier this month thanks to the publication of the book “The Wars of Francois Hollande”.
In it, David Revault D’Allonnes of the daily Le Monde recounts how Hollande mastered the art of domestic political manoeuvring as head of the Socialist Party for 11 years and only seemed to discover defence and diplomacy at the Elysee Palace.
“There is a real political schizophrenia … between the prudent domestic Francois Hollande, who is always looking for consensus or compromise, and Hollande the hawk in the diplomatic and military field,” he said during one televised discussion.
His epiphany seemed to come about six months into his presidency, when Islamist insurgents seized northern Mali and he sent in French troops that quickly dislodged them.
“Things were going badly (at home), it was becoming clear that his campaign promises about boosting economic ground and reducing unemployment were not going to be kept,” the author said in another broadcast. “Suddenly, he pushed a button and found he had this tool that worked.”
Wartime hero General Charles de Gaulle, called on in 1958 to restore order during the Algerian war, laid out wide powers for the president in the Fifth Republic’s constitution and his successors have regularly used them to defend French interests abroad, frequently in France’s former African colonies.
But Valery Giscard d’Estaing’s close links with friendly African leaders helped contribute to his defeat in the 1981 presidential elections when many voters punished him for accepting a gift of diamonds from Central Africa’s Emperor Jean-Bedel Bokassa.
His successors intervened in crises in Lebanon, Chad, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Libya, without winning more than fleeting support from voters, even if they approved of the missions. Jacques Chirac enjoyed wide and longer-lasting popularity across political lines when he refused to join the United States in invading Iraq in 2003.
The Paris massacre has put a damper on campaigning for regional elections on Nov 30 and Dec 13, where Hollande’s Socialists look set for stinging defeats because of discontent on local issues and the national government’s failure to reduce unemployment, which is running at about 10 percent.
The conservative Republicans are due to win several regions and far-right National Front might even take a region or two. The speculation in Paris is that the drama could play slightly in the two parties’ favour at the ballot box.
This is because even though Hollande is seen to have handled the crisis well, the right-wing parties have historically taken a tougher line on security issues.
A poll after the Paris killings showed 87 per cent trusted the police and security forces to stand up effectively to terrorism, but only 50 per cent thought the same of Hollande and his government.
Another poll last month showed former conservative prime minister Alain Juppe was by far the favourite candidate for president, with 52 per cent support, while Hollande placed fourth with 19 per cent.