With a recent poll indicating that he is the least popular French president in three decades, François Hollande has chosen to go to the people to try to 'win back the trust' of those who had swept him into power last May.
Almost a year after defeating incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in May 2012, Hollande headed out on a trip to Cote d'Or, Burgundy this week as he launched a major charm offensive in an attempt to restore his image in the eyes of those who voted for him.
However, he didn’t have everything his own way while meeting crowds on the streets of Dijon on Monday. One man was caught on camera shouting “Mr. Hollande, where are the promises?” before being swept away in a headlock by what appeared to be Hollande's security guards.
Yet another local man vented his frustration with the president’s performance, shouting from the margins of a media scrum, “Where's the change? In the dictionary, ‘now’ means ‘immediately’” in a biting reference to Hollande’s election campaign slogan of ‘'Le changement c'est maintenant" (Change is now).
Hollande responded by saying "It's coming", to the amusement of the press pack.
One woman’s ire, however, was directed not towards France’s stubbornly-high unemployment rate, nor the Socialist president’s economic policy, but his private life, and more precisely his choice of girlfriend.
Referring to Hollande’s partner, Valerie Trierweiler, the local woman smilingly said to the president: “Don’t marry Valerie,” adding “We don’t like her in France.”
Hollande responded with an awkward laugh, before quickly resuming his new battle for French hearts and minds, one handshake at a time.
Hollande's charm offensive is a sign of things to come as he plans to leave 'the ivory towers' of the Elysée Palace to make regular visits across France, in a new tactic aimed at boosting his flagging popularity.
He and his team of advisers are clearly concerned by his dwindling support levels.
A recent TNS poll, which revealed the president only had the support of 30 percent of the population, meant he had the lowest rating for a president in the tenth month of office since 1981, when fellow Socialist François Mitterrand was in power.
According to the survey, Hollande's fall in popularity has been dramatic, with 66 percent of the population now saying they have no confidence in their leader – an increase of five percent since last month.
According to Emmanuel Riviere, a director of polling agency TNS Sofres, the slump can be put down to France’s ongoing economic woes.
Speaking about the change in focus as the president battles to win back the support of voters, François Rebsamen, head of the Socialists in the Senate told Les Echos newspaper: "There will be no big speeches, no grand themes, just simple and frequent visits.”
In Dijon on Monday, one young man was filmed trying to solve his own unemployment problems, stopping the French president at a train station, and handing him his printed CV, declaring "I'm a recent graduate, and if you could give me an unpaid internship this summer, I would even take that."
Hollande, surrounded by assistants and members of the media, held up the file and said, "I'll hold on to this." 23-year-old law graduate Louis Godart responded, "You promise? I'm counting on you, Mr. Hollande."