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A Tale of Two Frances Before Riots

A Tale of Two Frances Before Riots

Story Highlights

  • 46% of richest French are thriving, compared with 25% of poorest
  • 56% of richest French living comfortably, compared with 22% of poorest

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Emmanuel Macron is the president of two Frances: one that is wealthy, thriving and approves of his leadership, and one that is poorer, isn't thriving and is calling for his resignation. Both are in flames right now amid the worst civil disturbances in France since the 1960s.

Earlier this year, before French anger over increases in the country's fuel tax boiled over, Macron's approval rating had slipped nationwide from 61% shortly after his election in 2017, to 49%. While Macron's approval among French in the wealthiest two income groups held steady in his first year in office, it dropped precipitously among those in middle- to lower-income groups, the same ones taking to the streets now.

French Approval of President Emmanuel Macron
Do you approve or disapprove of the way President Emmanuel Macron is handling his job as president?
2017 2018 Change
% % pct. pts.
All French adults 61 49 -12
Income level
Poorest 20% 60 45 -15
Second 20% 60 31 -29
Middle 20% 66 54 -12
Fourth 20% 52 51 -1
Richest 20% 65 65 0

The riots over the planned increase in fuel taxes and the anger about more general living costs highlight the gaps between France's richest and poorest citizens. These gaps are evident not only in their ratings of Macron but also in other areas of their lives.

Poorer French Rate Their Lives Much Worse

The divides are glaring in the ratings people in these two Frances give their lives. While nearly half of French people in the top two income groups rate their lives positively enough to be considered "thriving," only about one in four people in the bottom two income groups do.

Gallup asks adults worldwide to evaluate their lives on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale, where "0" represents the worst possible life and "10" represents the best possible life. Gallup classifies people as "thriving" if they rate their current lives a 7 or higher and their lives in five years an 8 or higher, and "suffering" if they rate both their current and future life situations a 4 or lower. Those in the middle are "struggling."

French Life Evaluations Diverge Sharply by Income Level
Thriving Struggling Suffering
% % %
All French adults 35 60 5
Income level
Poorest 20% 25 69 6
Second 20% 24 68 9
Middle 20% 35 61 4
Fourth 20% 47 50 3
Richest 20% 46 52 2
GALLUP WORLD POLL, May 24-June 20, 2018

Many Poor French Struggling to Make Ends Meet

French citizens in the top two income brackets are more than twice as likely as those in the bottom two groups to say they are living comfortably. The majority of French (56%) in the top 20% say they are living comfortably, while nearly half (45%) of those in the next group say the same.

For the bottom income group, 22% say they are living comfortably, 45% are just getting by, and 31% are currently finding it difficult or very difficult to live on their current household income. An even smaller percentage of those in the second-lowest income group in French society, 19%, are living comfortably, 55% are getting by, and 26% find it difficult or very difficult to live on their current household income.

French Feelings About Their Household Income
Which one of these phrases comes closest to your own feelings about your household income these days?
Living comfortably Getting by Finding it difficult Finding it very difficult
% % % %
All French adults 34 43 18 4
Income level
Poorest 20% 22 45 22 9
Second 20% 19 55 21 5
Middle 20% 29 46 20 5
Fourth 20% 45 41 11 3
Richest 20% 56 28 15 0
GALLUP WORLD POLL, May 24-June 20, 2018

Common Ground

While there is distinct division between the more affluent and less affluent segments of the French public in how they rate their lives and their household incomes, they are all more likely to see their living standards as getting worse, rather than improving. Forty percent or more of all five income brackets in French society say their living standards are getting worse.

French Views of Their Living Standards, by Income Level
Right now, do you feel your standard of living is getting better or getting worse?
Getting better Staying the same (vol.) Getting worse
% % %
Income level
Poorest 20% 27 23 50
Second 20% 32 26 42
Middle 20% 29 24 46
Fourth 20% 27 32 41
Richest 20% 31 29 40
(vol.) = volunteered response
Gallup World Poll, May 24-June 20, 2018


There has been substantial discussion among pundits, journalists and researchers about dissatisfaction among the poor and working classes throughout the developed world in recent years. This dissatisfaction has been linked to everything from the successful campaign for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, to the election of President Donald Trump in the U.S.

Before the final round of the 2017 French presidential election, it had appeared that dissatisfaction in France would result in a far-right populist coming to power in the form of Marine Le Pen of the National Front. At that time, Macron was hailed as an alternative who could reform France's economy and make the country more attractive to business, while maintaining the social safety net. This, in turn, was expected to eventually counter dissatisfaction among the French poor and working classes by creating more jobs and increasing wages, with little negative impact on the public.

However, based on the recent violence and the French public's assessments of their current life conditions and incomes, Macron has not yet delivered reform of the French economy that benefits everyone.

He has now suspended the fuel tax hikes and is reportedly considering a variety of security responses to the current unrest. A response to the riots based on rolling back the fuel tax increases and imposing additional security measures may succeed over the short term, but it will not address the clear economic disparities in French society and the dissatisfaction among the poor and working classes.

For complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.

Learn more about how the Gallup World Poll works.

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