Can Bruni fix Sarkozy's bruised image?
Experts are divided over how a marriage would affect the president's popularity, which tumbled into negative ratings for the first time this month
PARIS, January 20, 2008 - Nicolas Sarkozy and his new flame Carla Bruni
have transfixed the world's gossip press for weeks, but the jet-setting
romance seems to have backfired among French voters worried their president is
taking his eye off the job.
With the 40-year-old model-turned-singer tipped to become France's next
first lady -- rumours all-but-confirmed by Sarkozy himself -- experts are
divided over how a marriage would affect the president's popularity, which
tumbled into negative ratings for the first time this month.
"With a character as unpredictable as Carla Bruni, who has come out
publicly in favour of polygamy, Nicolas Sarkozy is running a risk," warned
Philippe Braud, professor at Sciences Po university in Paris.
In the worst case scenario, Braud suggested the 52-year-old president could
"end up in situations the French would see as undermining the dignity of his
"But if Carla Bruni behaves wisely as part of a lasting relationship... her
physical elegance, her culture, her popularity as an artist and her sense of
PR, could play a vital role in shaping the image of a modern president, fully
in tune with the times."
Pollsters suggest the media soap opera surrounding Sarkozy's couple,
pursued by paparazzi from Paris to Egypt and Jordan since mid-December, has
alienated many of his older, conservative supporters.
With Sarkozy's romance grabbing headlines, three months after his divorce
from his second wife Cecilia, critics accuse him of neglecting his election
pledges to slash unemployment and boost growth, causing unease in his own camp.
The president's approval rating has sunk to 47 percent -- down five points
in a month -- according to an IFOP poll published in the Journal du Dimanche
"I am not saying he has definitely gone too far, but there is a chance
public opinion could turn against him," said Stephane Zumsteeg, of the IPSOS
Braud argued that "Nicolas Sarkozy can only hope to limit this boomerang
effect by introducing more discretion and more stability into his private
life, which depends on him but also on his partner."
For the political analyst Dominique Reynie, the president "is facing a very
serious potential crisis, in image terms".
"He is the only president to have slipped this badly in the polls without
it being linked either to a failed reform, or to carrying out a painful one."
"This is not about puritanism. The French people never asked to have a monk
in the Elysee," Reynie said.
"But the French are worried right now, about the cost of living, but also
about fundamental questions of globalisation. What the French do want is
Reynie said Sarkozy badly needs "a few good results", to prove he is not
powerless before the country's needs.
Sarkozy's office insists that econonic reforms adopted since last summer
have yet to show their full effect, and that the delay explains his current
slump in popularity.
Accused of going public with Bruni to deflect from France's economic
troubles, Sarkozy insisted he merely wanted to "break with a hateful tradition
Braud agreed that Sarkozy's readiness to publicise parts of his private
life breaks with "a tradition of discretion, even dissimulation" surrounding
the lives of French presidents.
The Socialist Francois Mitterrand hid a double life with his mistress and
their illegitimate daughter Mazarine during much of his 14 years in power --
even though it was an open secret for the Paris in-crowd.
The press also kept a respectful distance from Sarkozy's predecessor
Jacques Chirac, despite the fact his wife Bernadette has publicly acknowledged
her husband had affairs throughout their marriage.
"Now the press is taking advantage of the fact it has someone who is more
up-front about his private life," said Zumsteeg.
"But there has been a real build-up in recent weeks. All presidents have to
deal with the end of their political honeymoon -- and he needs to be careful."