Jacques Chirac Didn’t Lead Iraq War Opposition, He Followed

Jacques Chirac Didn’t Lead Iraq War Opposition, He Followed

PARIS -- Last Tuesday night, on the eve of handing over power to his successor Nicolas Sarkozy, Jacques Chirac bid an emotional "farewell" to the French people in a televised address. "I want to tell you how strong the bond is that from the bottom of my heart ties me to each and every one of you," Chirac said, "This bond is that of affection, that of respect, that of admiration for the French people." It is clear that by the end of his second term in office these warm feelings were not much reciprocated by Chirac's compatriots. Over the course of his second term, Chirac's approval ratings became mired at levels so low that he might well have been jealous of the notoriously low ratings of George W. Bush in his own second term.

In July of last year, the number of respondents expressing confidence in Chirac in the monthly "barometer" published by the French polling firm TNS-Sofres reached an all-time low of 16 percent. No other French President had ever fallen below 30 percent in the TNS-Sofres barometer since it was first launched in 1978. Chirac's rating remained under 30 percent for virtually the entirety of his last two years in office. It only managed to creep back to the 30 percent mark, and no higher, in April of this year, as Chirac faded into irrelevance.

The corresponding survey of rival French polling firm Ipsos was somewhat "kinder" to Chirac -- a fact that is perhaps not so surprising when one considers that Ipsos co-President Jean-Marc Lech has served as Chirac's personal pollster and that the firm's international expansion was largely financed by Chirac's close friend, the businessman François Pinault. But not even the Ipsos survey could hide the severe degradation in Chirac's popularity, with the Ipsos numbers bottoming out at 27 percent in June 2005. Somewhat miraculously, however, Ipsos had Chirac precipitously rallying to a majority favorable rating in his last weeks in office. This apparent "happy end" stands in glaring contradiction to other French polling data. Thus in a survey conducted by the Opinionway institute on the very day of the French presidential vote earlier this month, fully 77 percent of respondents expressed the hope that the next French President would bring about a "rupture" from Chirac's policies. A mere nine percent wished for continuity. (American readers will know Ipsos as the polling partner of the Associated Press. On the checkered history of Ipsos polling and the firm's ties to Chirac, see here.)

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