The role of communication in the President’s failure or the illustration of the “slippery slope” theory
Since 1981, all candidates running in presidential elections who favored / promoted a reasonable and realistic (sensible) approach / played the reasonable and realism card, have lost against their opponents who made impractical promises to our citizens: Giscard against Mitterrand, Barre against Chirac in1988, Balladur opposed to Chirac and Jospin in 1995, Jospin against Chirac and Le Pen in 2002.
Thus, we can hardly blame François Hollande for his election promises. It is likely that if he hadn’t made them, we wouldn’t have to question ourselves today about the reasons of his failure, as he wouldn’t have been elected.
However, unlike Mitterrand in 1982-1983, we can observe that he was not capable of handling the shift to reality, breaking his campaign promises in the economic and social fields And we can assert that the current failure is mainly the result of the mistake made in July 2012, when he refused to dramatize the situation he had inherited.
After the legislative elections in June, instead of promising “the sweat and tears” that were called by the seriousness of the crisis, the new President went on holidays and walked around the Brégançon Castle. Instead of admitting that he did not convince his European counterparts to adopt a real stimulus policy and to draw the necessary operational consequences from it in terms of economic and social policy in France, he claims victory after a Summit, which did not give him any tangible outcome. He implements a semi-rigorous policy without saying it, based on the idea that it is better to increase a little all the taxes and to cut back a little on all spending, waiting for the growth, instead of implementing the fundamental reforms needed.
The sanction is immediate: from the end of November, his popularity drops, which leads him to announce on a Sunday night “the inversion of the unemployment curve for the end of year 2013”, and then to reiterate this commitment throughout the year. The more it becomes obvious that it cannot be achieved, the more he insists and raises stakes, with the unwavering support of his Minister of Labour and Employment. His popularity erodes month after month, and reaches a level that has never been reached under the Fifth Republic. And when the failure becomes inevitable at the end of 2013, he improvises a new “responsibility pact” which has still not been entered into force after nine months and which has alienated some of his last supporters on the left side.
It was not until the end of August 2014 that a strong and clear direction was given, with the establishment of Manuel Valls’ second government, and more particularly with the replacement of Arnaud Montebourg by Emmanuel Macron.
The problem is that in-between, the President has become inaudible, to the extent that, according to a survey published on September, 7th, 85% of the French people do not want him to stand for the 2017 election. All crisis communication specialists know that each new initiative intended to stop the decline is only making it worse, even after a very short respite.
What then can be done?
Now that a consistent and assumed direction has been defined, let the Prime Minister be responsible for the implementation of the structural reforms needed. Step back. Return to a “rarity policy” introduced and implemented by Jacques Pilhan for François Mitterrand between 1984 and 1988.
Nevertheless, because of the situations in Ukraine, Middle-East and Africa, François Hollande has enough opportunities to (re)form a presidential stature which he needs to be reelected, until his government’s action is finally effective.