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Sarkozy's popularity ratings pull out of slump

PARIS (Reuters) - President Nicolas Sarkozy has pulled out of his opinion poll tailspin, according to a survey published on Monday, which showed the French leader’s popularity recovering on the back of his recent visit to Britain.

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy delivers a speech at the the Guildhall of London on March 27, 2008 at the beginning of a dinner offered by London Mayor David Lewis. REUTERS/Eric Feferberg/Pool

The LH2 poll in Liberation newspaper said Sarkozy’s approval ratings climbed to 40 percent in March against 37 percent in February, ending a three month slump in support.

The survey was carried out on March 28 and 29, just after Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, ended a high-profile state visit to Britain, that was full of pomp and ceremony.

“The anti-Sarkozy spiral has ended,” said Francois Miquet-Marty, LH2’s director of studies. “The stabilisation of the president’s approval ratings comes in the context of the re-presidentialisation of his image,” he added.

While Sarkozy’s ratings finally nudged higher, that of his high-flying prime minister, Francois Fillon, dipped three percentage points to 50 percent.

Sarkozy’s ratings hit a high of 67 percent last July, two months after taking office, before falling back in subsequent polls and slumping 17 points between December and February.

Pollsters blamed Sarkozy’s slide on a mix of general voter discontent over the growing cost of living and unhappiness about Sarkozy’s celebrity lifestyle, which many thought was out of keeping with his office.

The president divorced last October and just weeks later threw himself into a whirlwind romance with pop star Carla Bruni, raising eyebrows in France, particularly amongst traditionally-minded elderly voters.

PENSIONERS APPROVE

Sarkozy re-married in February and his new wife sparkled on the visit to Britain, winning over the press on both sides of the channel with her elegance and style.

The president has also quite consciously adopted a more sombre tone, no longer sporting his trademark Ray Ban sunglasses and curtailing his hyperactive agenda.

LH2 said Sarkozy’s popularity had jumped amongst elderly voters, climbing 10 points to 60 percent. The grey vote proved instrumental in Sarkozy’s 2007 election victory and his aides had been particularly worried by the pensioners’ anger.

Voter dissatisfaction was evident at municipal elections in March which saw the opposition left seize control of dozens of towns and cities across France.

The LH2 poll said 60 percent thought the ballot was intended as a direct rejection of Sarkozy and his ruling centre-right administration, rather than an election based on purely local issues, as some ministers suggested.

Only 32 percent of voters thought the local vote showed the Socialists had found “a new dynamic at the national level”.

The left has been in disarray following its defeat in last year’s presidential vote. The local win has helped revive spirits but the Socialists still face a divisive leadership fight later this year, with no clear favourite in sight.

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