PARIS The French are bleaker about their country's future than at any time since 2005, a new poll showed on Saturday, with 68 percent saying they are "rather" or "very" pessimistic, the highest level ever in the initial months of a new presidency.
The poll's findings jibed with a survey released last weekend which found that Socialist President Francois Hollande's approval rating had slipped to 54 percent, continuing a steady decline since he took office in May.
The level of pessimism fell just short of an all-time high of 70 percent registered in August 2005, when the poll was created near the end of Jacques Chirac's government.
Hollande's government has been reeling from unemployment at a 13-year high and a rash of job cuts in recent weeks at top employers like carmaker Peugeot and retailer Carrefour. The government launched a plan this week to create 150,000 state-sponsored jobs for youth.
Only 34 percent of those surveyed were confident in the government's ability to battle unemployment, and just 20 percent expect the government to be able to improve their buying power.
"It's the first time that anxiety is so high at the beginning of a presidential mandate," said polling firm Ifop, which conducted the survey for Dimanche Ouest France newspaper, in a statement accompanying the findings.
Pessimism stood at just 34 percent at the equivalent point in Chirac's presidency in 2002 and 50 percent in Nicolas Sarkozy's in 2007, the firm said.
The government's efforts to spur consumption have been complicated by its EU deficit-cutting commitments, which mean hitting a 3 percent deficit target next year. That will force it to find some 30 billion euros ($37.8 billion) in deficit cuts next year, half of which it has said would come from spending.
The poll found that the pessimism extended even to 58 percent of Socialist party supporters.
Nearly 60 percent lacked confidence in the government's ability to strengthen law and order, which has emerged as a concern in the wake of riots last month in the city of Amiens.
Those surveyed were asked: "In thinking about the future, for you and your children, would you say that you are very optimistic, rather optimistic, rather pessimistic or very pessimistic," along with queries about their confidence in the government's ability to make progress on various issues.
The poll was based on the views of 1,004 people aged 18 and over, interviewed August 30 and 31. ($1 = 0.7933 euros)
(Reporting by Christian Plumb and Gerard Bon; Editing by Roger Atwood)