Common wisdom says that incumbents get reelected more easily when the economy is booming. Also, they are more often fired by electors when the economy is in trouble. A whole series of 2008 incumbents can confirm this: the Republican Party (and John McCain) in the U.S., the Labour Party (and Gordon Brown) in Great Britain, or even President Sarkozy of France.
When President Hollande took office in 2012, he asked the French to evaluate his presidency by two things, two issues: social justice and the young. The underlying promise was that President Hollande would put the budget, and the French economy back on track, he would ask more effort from the rich, and create jobs, especially jobs for the young threatened by mass unemployment.
For the moment, France seems to believe that President Hollande has not delivered yet. His popularity is as low as ever. Polls measuring voting intentions show that – should the election take place this Sunday – Hollande would have drop out of the race after the first round. To put it simply, this coming Sunday, Marine Le Pen, the President of the National Front would get more votes than the sitting head of state.
President Hollande seems to know this. He declared several times that he would not run for president again in 2018 if unemployment numbers stayed above 10-11% (where they are now).
Now the President should be watching those monthly statistics like a hawk. He manouvered himself into a situation where those numbers matter more than they usually do in an electoral cycle.
If those numbers remain bad, if the French economy is not obviusly better off in late 2016 and early 2017 than in 2012, Hollande has two bad choices: 1) drop out of the race as the incumbent and admit defeat before polling stations even open, or 2) stay in the race, and suffer the consequences.
Whatever happens, 2017 will be an election centered around the economy and unemployment. More than ever. It is the President’s own making.