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Les Liaisons dangereuses?

- January 8, 2008

Has Nicolas Sarkozy’s approval rating taken a dive because of his recent romance with “model-turned-singerCarla Bruni? So says this New York Times piece, basing this conclusion on a January CSA poll:

bq. According to a nationwide survey by the polling group CSA published Sunday, only 48 percent of the French surveyed said they trusted the president to run the country — a fall of seven points in a month. Since last July, his approval rating has plunged by 17 percentage points.

bq. “President Sarkozy is exposing his flamboyant personal life at the moment the French want him to deliver on his promises to improve the economy,” said Stéphane Rozès, CSA’s director, in a telephone interview on Monday. “He has eliminated the line between public and private life, between his success in his personal life and his promises for the French people to succeed.”

Does the evidence support this conclusion? No. Here is a graph of favorability toward Sarkozy, drawing on data from 3 different polling agencies. (Each of them asks a slightly different question, but with little evident consequence.) The January datapoint is from the Times piece. I have put a vertical line at the point where the Sarkozy-Bruni relationship was first reported (Dec. 18, according to a Lexis search for “Sarkozy Bruni”).


The solid line displays the CSA finding. Clearly there has been a decrease from 55% in December to 48% in January. If we assume that about 1,000 people were interviewed, then the margin of error is about 3 points, which does make this 7-point drop slightly outside the margin of error (which must be added/subtracted to both 55% and 48% to tell whether the difference is significant).

However, it is clear that Sarkozy’s ratings have been dropping steadily throughout the fall. Moreover, CSA’s 48% figure is not significantly different from his rating in a December Ifop poll (51%) or his rating in a November TNS poll (49%), both of which occurred before this apparent romance. Thus, the conclusion of Rozès seems premature.

So, in sum, my message to you, President Sarkozy, is this: vive l’amour!

[Update: Despite my attempts to email the NY Times reporter, Elaine Sciolino, this post, the next day she was still referring to the “steep decline” in Sarkozy’s approval rating.]

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