French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s re-election bid stumbled in a week marked by Socialist Francois Hollande proposing a millionaire tax-surcharge and protesters booing the incumbent as the “president of the rich.”
Sarkozy, who was forced yesterday to seek refuge in a bar during a campaign visit to a southwestern town after an angry mob threw pieces of paper at him, saw his support dwindle in the polls. Hollande’s lead over Sarkozy widened to 3.5 percentage points from as little as 1 point last week, Ifop’s daily tracking poll showed yesterday. In second-round support, the gap widened to 13 points from 11 points.
The Socialist candidate’s Feb. 27 proposal for 75 percent income tax on annual earnings of more than 1 million euros ($1.3 million) was aimed at shoring up his base and putting Sarkozy on the defensive in the 10-week campaign, analysts said.
“For Hollande, this is about recovering the initiative,” said Eric Bonnet, a pollster at the BVA Institute in Paris. “He’s betting that he’s become sufficiently credible on the economy and austerity that he can make this sort of proposal.”
About 49 percent of voters judge Hollande capable of cutting France’s budget deficit, compared with about 48 percent for Sarkozy, an Ipsos-Logica poll published yesterday showed. Sarkozy is seen as stronger confronting the financial crisis by a margin of 52 percent to 45 percent, while Hollande is seen to be better on reducing unemployment by 60 percent to 37 percent.
Sarkozy attacked Hollande’s tax proposal yesterday, saying it would drive entertainers and entrepreneurs out of France.
Battle Over Tax
“Francois Hollande wants fewer rich people in France -- that’s his right -- but I want fewer poor,” he said on RTL radio. “If tomorrow we have a genius such as Steve Jobs on the scene, must we absolutely chase them away?”
Still, 61 percent of French people approve of Hollande’s millionaire tax, according to a poll by TNS Sofres and Mediaprism for iTele released today. The pollster surveyed 1,010 people aged 18 years or more.
Separately, Sarkozy was jeered yesterday upon his arrival in Bayonne, a town in France’s southwestern Basque region, and had to be ushered into a café where a lunch was scheduled with local supporters. A flustered Sarkozy denounced them as a “violent minority” that are close to “a terrorist movement.”
The kerfuffle eclipsed Sarkozy’s pledge to offer high school teachers a 500-euro a month pay increase for working longer hours and his announcement that ArcelorMittal (MT) agreed to invest 17 million euros in a steel plant in northeastern France where jobs are threatened.
For Sarkozy, who since starting his campaign Feb. 15 has announced policy in doses rather than presenting a complete platform, that meant that Hollande was setting the agenda.
“The game of the past week has been about who has been the master of the tempo of the campaign,” said Guenaelle Gault, a pollster at TNS in Paris. “With the 75 percent tax, Hollande is moving away from the defensive and taking back control.”
Sarkozy now has the support of about 25.5 percent of the electorate for the first round of voting against 29 percent for Hollande, according to the Ifop rolling poll. The first ballot will be held on April 22. Hollande’s support for the May 6 run- off is currently at about 56.6 percent, compared with 43.5 percent for Sarkozy, the poll showed.
Speaking to supporters in Lyon late yesterday, Hollande rebuffed Sarkozy’s criticisms of his tax, saying the proposal is more about fairness than about raising money.
“This measure isn’t about bringing a single euro into state coffers, it’s motivated by a form of patriotism that the country needs,” Hollande said. “My campaign is one for the middle class, not the privileged.”
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