Battered Sarkozy watches rivals soar in the polls

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A survey conducted by Ifop shows IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn is France's most popular politician with a 76 percent approval rating while Sarkozy remains stuck at record lows.

Paris – French President Nicolas Sarkozy took a fresh beating in the polls on Wednesday as a new survey showed rivals from the left and right winning over voters at an alarming rate for the once dominant leader.

As challengers take the starting blocks for the 2012 presidential election, a poll for Paris Match magazine showed IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn is France's most popular politician with a 76 percent approval rating.

The survey conducted by Ifop also showed Sarkozy's approval rating remains stuck at record lows and now lagging behind that of his arch rival, former prime minister Dominique de Villepin.

Asked to choose between Sarkozy and ex-prime minister, 57 percent of respondents said they preferred Villepin while 38 percent chose the president.

Former finance minister Strauss-Kahn's rating was up four points.

Le Parisien newspaper said the poll results were "disturbing" for the Elysee in particular since they confirmed Villepin in his status as the main rival from within the right.

Sarkozy's approval rating was down five points in a month -- which left him in a dismal 34th position on the list of most popular politicians.

By comparison, his lacklustre prime minister, Francois Fillon, ranked 12th with 57 percent.

Sarkozy, who was elected in May 2007, enjoyed a lengthy honeymoon with voters for nearly a year with the bickering Socialist opposition in disarray.

But his rating began to slide when he was romantically linked to his now wife, the model Carla Bruni, before taking further hits during the recession.

"Over the past months, Sarkozy has been in a position of unpopularity that is quite significant," said Ifop pollster Frederic Micheau.

"The economic crisis is a strong point against him. There are also tensions around the coming regional elections" next month in which Sarkozy's party is headed for a drubbing.

A former Socialist finance minister, Strauss-Kahn this month floated the idea that he could quit his job in Washington as managing director of the International Monetary Fund to run for the presidency.

In a duel with Sarkozy, Strauss-Kahn would win hands-down with 61 percent compared to 36 percent for the president, the Ifop poll showed.

Two months ago, 52 percent of respondents said they favoured Strauss-Kahn compared to 43 percent for Sarkozy.

The 60-year-old Socialist became IMF chief in 2007 at the recommendation of Sarkozy and pollsters say Strauss-Kahn has benefited from being in Washington, far removed from the squabbling tearing apart the opposition party.

"He has soared to very high levels that are unprecedented for him," said Micheau. "He projects an aura of economic expertise at a time when France is coming out of one of its worst economic crises of all time."

Villepin is riding a popular wave from his acquittal in the Clearstream trial, in which he was accused of plotting to slander Sarkozy in 2004 and wreck his changes at the presidency, pollsters said.

The ex-premier had charged that his trial was political and accused Sarkozy of pursuing a personal vendetta against him, a charge he re-stated when prosecutors appealed his acquittal and demanded a second trial.

Pollsters caution however that a popularity rating does not necessarily translate into voter intentions, noting that for years politicians like Bernard Kouchner topped the polls, but never managed to advance their political careers.

AFP / Expatica

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