Macron consolidates lead over Le Pen in French election polls


 Reuters International

Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement 'En Marche!', or 'Onwards!', and candidate for the 2017 presidential election, delivers a speech as he attends a meeting for Women's day in Paris, France, March 8,2017. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

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By Leigh Thomas and Sudip Kar-Gupta

PARIS (Reuters) - Centrist Emmanuel Macron saw his position as favourite to win France's presidential election boosted on Thursday in two polls, with one showing him ahead of far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the first round of the two-stage contest.

A monthly Cevipof survey, seen as the most authoritative because it has a far bigger sample size than most polls, put Le Pen well ahead in the April 23 first round though Macron was seen easily beating her in a May 7 runoff.

However, a Harris Interactive poll showed Macron winning the first round with 26 percent of votes, with Le Pen taking second place on 25 percent, setting him up to trounce her in the run-off with a score of 65 percent.

It was the second poll in the space of a week that put the 39-year-old ahead of Le Pen in the opening round, a signal that the centrist former economy minister may be consolidating his position 45 days from the first stage of the contest.

The polls coincided with the release of a research note from Credit Suisse bank that said the risk of a win for Le Pen, who wants to restore the French franc currency, was exaggerated.

Macron's showing in the Harris poll helped ease investor concerns about the prospects of Le Pen winning, with the gap between French and German bond yields narrowing on Thursday morning.

The race remains difficult to call, however, after a string of surprises, including Socialist incumbent Francois Hollande's decision not to seek a second term, and shock wins in primaries for contenders the pollsters had ruled out.

Additionally, financial scandals have engulfed Le Pen and conservative Francois Fillon, who after his surprise victory in the primary of The Republicans party was the clear poll favourite to become president as recently as January.

MACRON SUPPORT FIRMS

The Cevipof poll for Le Monde showed Le Pen with 27 percent of votes in the first round, up one percentage point from last month, with Macron stable at 23 percent and Fillon gaining one point to 19.5 percent.

Fillon was initially on 17.5 percent when the poll was initially conducted on March 1-5, but his score improved as pollsters surveyed an additional thousand people after he held a major rally in Paris and his party decided to keep backing him.

After a series of resignations, Fillon's team announced senior appointments on Thursday to try to shore up his campaign, including former finance minister Francois Baroin in the special role of unifying the increasingly fragmented Republicans party.

While Le Pen's score in the Harris poll was unchanged from the last time it was conducted two weeks ago, Macron's surged six percentage points. In that period he published his campaign manifesto and veteran centrist Francois Bayrou gave him his support.

Le Pen's campaign head, David Rachline, dismissed the Harris poll news, saying in reference to round one: "The reality right now is that Marine (Le Pen) is in front in almost all polls."

The Harris survey, conducted on March 6-8 with a sample of 4,932 voters, also showed that while Macron voters were still the most undecided among those backing leading candidates, the proportion who were sure they would vote for him had risen by 10 percentage points to 59 percent.

Macron, detested by some leftists for pushing pro-business policies and liberalisation in President Francois Hollande's government, is not without detractors.

Vandals painted hostile graffiti on the walls of a public hall outside Bordeaux over night Wednesday where he was due to hold a campaign rally.

(Click here for a graphic on 'French presidential election' http://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/rngs/FRANCE-ELECTION/010031D933E/index.html)

(Writing by Brian Love; Editing by Andrew Callus and Dominic Evans)

Reuters

 Reuters International