* Left-wing, green voters increasingly opposed
* President, PM punished over economy, management style
By John Irish
PARIS, Dec 16 Approval ratings for French
President Francois Hollande and Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault
hit new lows in December, a poll showed, as left-wing voters
showed their discontent over the government's handling of the
Hollande's government has faced criticism over the tactics
it used in a two-month battle over the future of ArcelorMittal's
Florange steel plant, which unnerved investors in the
euro zone's second largest economy and confused France's unions.
His administration is also struggling to stop a haemorrhage
of industrial jobs while curbing public spending and raising
taxes to help slash debt against the background of a stagnant
The president's backing slipped by four percentage points to
37 percent in December, the worst rating since he became
France's first Socialist president in 17 years in May, according
to an IFOP poll published for weekly newspaper Le Journal du
Prime Minister Ayrault, who reached an agreement with
ArcelorMittal to save jobs late last month, but was criticised
over how the process was managed, saw his ratings tumble eight
points to 35 percent, dipping below Hollande for the first time.
IFOP's deputy managing director Frederic Dabi said only
former president Jacques Chirac had recorded lower ratings at
the end of his first year in power with 30 percent in 1995.
"They are paying for the crisis, falling purchasing power,
rising unemployment and Florange underscores that," he said.
"There is disappointment on the left and extreme venom on the
right. Their (government) methods are causing anger."
The IFOP poll showed Hollande and Ayrault losing popularity
among far-left voters (down 13 and 17 points respectively) and
green voters (a 6 and 11-point fall).
Hollande has repeatedly said public criticism would not
divert him from his goal of reviving the economy and has called
on voters to judge him in five years.
"As long as the French have problems, they will judge that
we haven't achieved results," Labour Minister Michel Sapin told
i>Tele television on Sunday.
With unemployment at 14-year highs of 10 percent, there was
clear political advantage for Hollande to lock horns with Indian
steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal to save the plant.
But the result was at best a no-score-draw, and the tactics
used - anti-business rhetoric and the threat of nationalisation
- could damage his wider reform effort.
While his pugnacious, micro-managing predecessor Nicolas
Sarkozy led from the front, Hollande let his ministers lead the
fight, creating confusion over who runs industrial policy.
"He is continually making announcements and then going back
on them," said one person polled by IFOP.
The survey, based on 1,922 people aged at least 18, was
carried out by telephone between Dec. 6 and Dec. 14, Ifop said.
(Reporting By John Irish; Editing by Andrew Heavens)