LE HAVRE, France — No French president has been the object of such intense dislike among significant segments of the population as Emmanuel Macron — the result, experts say, of his image as an elitist out of touch with the ordinary French people whose pensions and work protections he has threatened in his efforts to make the economy more investor-friendly.
Even Macron enthusiasts wince at what have become known as his “little phrases”: dismissive remarks to voters who bemoan their circumstances, or sometimes about less successful people in general.
“Like when he told someone, ‘You’re searching for a job? Just cross the street and you’ll find one,’” one supporter, Nicole Liot, recalled at a recent presidential campaign stop.
Just how deep that loathing runs will be a critical factor — perhaps even the decisive one — in the election against his far-right rival, Marine Le Pen. Recent polls give Mr. Macron a lead of around 10 percentage points — wider than at some points in the campaign, but only a third of his winning margin five years ago.
But given the choice between a president they find disdainful and a far-right candidate they find detestable, many French voters may just stay home, or even vote for Ms. Le Pen, tipping the scales in a close election.
Pierre Rosanvallon, a historian and sociologist at the Collège de France, said that the little phrases had been “catastrophic” in forging Mr. Macron’s image and fueling the widespread sense of disdain that he said was a central factor in French politics and society.
“It’s about the relationship between a disdainful elite and a society that is disdained,” he said.