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In France, the perception of voters’ purchasing power could harm Macron during the election

Fuel nozzles are seen at a gas station in Nice, France, January 25, 2022. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard/File Photo

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LAVAL-EN-BRIE, France, March 4 (Reuters) – Independent electrician Loic Luboue Le Quere lives in a rural village 80 km (50 miles) south of Paris and relies on his van for work. In recent months, his diesel bill has skyrocketed, crushing his finances.

Luboue Le Quere said it now cost him 90 euros to fill up and was spending more than 500 euros a month on diesel, a third more than just six months ago, when prices gasoline in France were reaching record levels.

With a month to go before a presidential election, the frustrations of people like Louboue Le Quere over the cost of living are of concern to President Emmanuel Macron, who has warned that fallout from the war in Ukraine will drive up inflationary pressures.

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“It’s my work tool, I have no choice but to use it,” said Luboue Le Quere at his home in Laval-En-Brie, a village of a few houses. “Living in the countryside, we need our car to run errands and take the child to school.”

And it’s not just fuel. Luboue Le Quere’s working materials, electricity and everyday consumer products are becoming more and more expensive.

Inflation is getting so taxing on the family’s budget, he said, that they are now forgoing parties and focusing on specials when buying much of their fruit and meat.

“At this point we are surviving,” he said. “It feels like you’re working just to pay the bills.”

INFLATION DEATH

Voters have for months cited the cost of living and purchasing power as their top concern ahead of the April election, as inflation rises globally due to rising commodity prices and tighter supply chains.

Reuters spoke to more than 20 rural and semi-urban residents who all complained about rising food, fuel and energy prices and the strain this was putting on their budgets.

Inflation has, however, been lower in France in recent months than elsewhere in the European Union, largely due to the government capping electricity and gas prices ahead of the vote.

Despite everything, inflation reached 3.6% in February, the highest since 2008. Households are feeling the effects; an IFOP poll in February showed that three-quarters of those polled believed their purchasing power had deteriorated during Macron’s tenure.

Such polls have perplexed the officials of the presidency and the Ministry of Finance. The Treasury estimates that gross disposable income, which economists use as an indicator of purchasing power, has grown twice as fast under Macron as under his two predecessors, socialist Francois Hollande and conservative Nicolas Sarkozy.

Mathieu Plane, an economist at the OFCE think tank, said purchasing power had largely stagnated for a decade under their presidencies, leaving a deep-seated feeling that people simply cannot move forward.

“People’s perception of purchasing power is rarely very positive, even in the best of times,” Plane said. “Macroeconomics…does not explain individual situations.”

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PURCHASING POWER CLAMP

The perception gap poses a risk for Macron, even as polls indicate he beat Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Rally party in a runoff.

The anti-government “yellow vest” protests that erupted in 2018 over diesel taxes and the cost of living and escalated into a revolt against the president himself, who has been vulnerable throughout its tenure to critics’ accusations of being out of touch with the hardships faced by ordinary households. .

Even though the data shows that all but the bottom 5% of households are better off than they were five years ago, according to the Institute for Public Policy, it’s not being felt in the back pocket.

Adama Jatta, 54, who lives near Evreux, west of Paris, said: “Everything is higher, it’s too much. At the end of the month, I have nothing left.”

The Treasury expects the population’s disposable income to increase by 4-6% by the end of Macron’s term since the start of 2017, after taking into account inflation and population growth and despite the worst post-war recession in France at the start of the pandemic.

At the bottom of the income scale, government incentive payments to encourage people to look for work have provided a boost, as have increases in some social assistance.

Various tax cuts have helped the middle and upper classes, while a stronger labor market has boosted everyone at all income levels, the data shows.

Nevertheless, the gains made over the past five years risk being offset by a surge in inflation, fueled by high energy prices which are still expected to come under pressure from the crisis in Ukraine.

“The increase in the price of oil, gas and raw materials has and will have consequences on our purchasing power,” Macron said on Wednesday, on the eve of launching his re-election bid. “I have and will have only one cardinal point: to protect you.”

Luboue Le Quere said he received a check for 100 euros from the government in December to help cushion rising fuel costs, but it had little impact on his bills.

He said it was the same with a council tax cut he received last year which was eroded by the doubling of another property tax.

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Luboue Le Quère said he did not yet know who he would vote for on April 10, but one thing was certain. “I will not vote for Emmanuel Macron. I feel like things have gotten worse since he’s been here.”

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Reporting by Leigh Thomas and Juliette Jabkhiro; Additional reporting by Manuel Ausloos; Editing by Richard Lough and Alison Williams

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