If convincing French voters is an uphill battle, it is especially challenging for Mr. Macron, who is viewed internationally as a dynamic European leader. His policies at home have yet to help most households.
In his first year, he delivered tax breaks to corporations and to France’s wealthiest 10 percent, earning him a reputation for favoring the rich. Purchasing power fell for the bottom 5 percent of households, while the majority in the middle, about 70 percent, were largely unaffected, according to the French Economic Observatory, an independent think tank.
Changes to the labor code intended to stoke hiring have trimmed unemployment slowly. Joblessness has fallen to 9.3 percent, from 10.1 percent when Mr. Macron was elected, but is still more than double the German unemployment rate. Although a nascent recovery before he took office helped generate jobs, growth has cooled recently to a 1.7 percent annual pace, as it has in the rest of the eurozone.
Mr. Macron promised voters that he could whittle unemployment to 7 percent by the next presidential election in 2022. To meet that target, the economy would have to grow by at least 1.7 percent in each of the next four years, which is by no means certain, according to the French Economic Observatory.
Mr. Macron’s economic policies have encouraged companies like Facebook and Fujitsu to increase investments in France. But his style — the confrontation with the gardener is a case in point — has alienated him from working-class voters and older citizens, who view him as out of touch and inclined to favor big business at the expense of workers.
Mr. Macron’s 2019 budget tries to make some amends. It pivots toward those left behind in the previous round of tax cuts, targeting €6 billion in housing and payroll tax cuts at the working class, on top of reductions in employee health care contributions and unemployment insurance payments. A separate plan would set aside €8 billion to tackle rising poverty with aid and job-training programs for disadvantaged youths under 25.
The budget is aimed at “making work pay” by leaving more money in workers’ pockets. But to keep the deficit in check, Mr. Macron is also trimming benefits for those not working, and cutting over 40,000 jobs in the public sector.