Macron's popularity edges up even as protesters persist: poll

PARIS (Reuters) - French President Emmanuel Macron’s popularity ratings recovered in January, a survey showed on Tuesday, after a series of government concessions aimed at ending a wave of “yellow vest” protests against high living costs.

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The demonstrations shaking France since mid-November had further dented Macron’s standing at the end of last year, with his popularity dropping to record lows amid a backlash that started out as an outcry over planned fuel tax hikes.

These were dropped in early December and Macron has since offered up further measures to appease protesters, including wage rises for the poorest workers.

The 41-year-old’s approval ratings jumped by 5 percentage points to 28 percent in January from a month earlier, the Ifop-Fiducial poll for Paris Match and Sud Radio showed, after two straight months of declines in its poll.

Some other recent surveys also showed improvement in Macron’s popularity in late December, albeit smaller ones.

The Ifop poll of 1,014 people was carried out on Jan. 3-4, before the latest marches last Saturday when rioters torched motorbikes and set barricades ablaze in Paris.

The French government has since toughened its stance and said it would crack down harder on undeclared protests and violence on the fringes of demonstrations.

Attendance at the anti-government rallies across France also regained some ground last weekend after losing steam over the Christmas holidays.

People surveyed by Ifop gave Macron the most credit for defending France’s interest overseas, but only 19 percent said they believed he understood voters’ concerns. Thirty percent gave the thumbs up to his economic policies.

Elected in mid-2017 on a platform of liberalizing the economy, Macron has promised to press on with his reform program and overhaul French institutions in spite of the “yellow vest” crisis.

With European elections looming in May - another big test for Macron - France’s far right “National Rally” party, formerly known as the National Front and headed up by Marine Le Pen, is consolidating its position, the Ifop poll also showed.

For the first time since May 2017 in the pollster’s rankings, Le Pen’s party emerged as the one that best represented the government’s main opposition, according to 35 percent of those surveyed. That put it just ahead of the far-left La France Insoumise (France Unbowed).

Reporting by Sarah White and Julie Carriat; Editing by Mark Heinrich