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Raffarin dives in polls

PARIS, Dec 7 (AFP) – French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin’s popularity is plumbing depths dangerously close to those touched by a predecessor who was forced out of office in 1997, the latest poll shows.

The number of adults still supporting Raffarin, who heads a centre-right government voted into power in June last year, has dropped to 29 percent, with 69 percent of respondents disapproving of his political performance, according to the survey by the Sofres institute published in Le Figaro Magazine.

The continuing slide has halved his initial rating from a year ago and puts his score close to the 20 percent his centre-right predecessor, Alain Juppe, garnered before being beaten by the left in 1997 elections, analysts noted.

“The decline may end up stopping, but I see absolutely no way things can reverse themselves, even if they might pick up a little before regional elections (in March 2004) if his side remobilises,” said Jerome Sainte-Marie, analyst at the rival BVA polling firm.

Even though Raffarin has racked up some victories, notably by pushing through long overdue pension reforms and hiking the price of cigarettes to battle smokers’ cancer rates, he has failed to ignite the public imagination with his low-key demeanour and constant appeals to the “ordinary French” to back his policies.

A killer heatwave in August that claimed nearly 15,000 lives, public apathy in the face of his cherished idea to devolve powers to regions, and aborted attempts to trim the 35-hour workweek introduced by the previous Socialist government have all seen his popularity suffer.

In terms of image, Raffarin also has the raw deal of being the face of often unpopular change while President Jacques Chirac steps in to claim glory for any successes.

Chirac himself scored 40 percent on the Sofres poll, unchanged from the last one in November.

But he is still struggling against the 58 percent of people who say they do not have confidence in the president.

Chirac has also seen France’s interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, claim 55 percent support in the survey on the back of a raft of security measures aimed at cutting illegal immigration and the country’s annual high road death toll.

The poll was based on a survey of 1,000 adults selected to represent a cross-section of the population.


                                                                Subject: French news