French far-right leader Le Pen closing gap on Macron: polls
Veteran French far-right leader Marine Le Pen is closing the gap on President Emmanuel Macron ahead of a possible election duel between the two of them next month, two new polls show.
Macron has long been favourite for the two-round election on April 10 and 24, with his handling of the diplomatic crisis caused by the war in Ukraine seen as boosting his chances.
But his estimated margin of victory over Le Pen is narrowing sharply as the election approaches, two polls published this week suggested.
If they faced each other in the second round, a poll by the Ifop-Fiducial group published on Monday indicated Macron would win by just 53 percent versus 47 percent for Le Pen, who had gained three points in a week.
A poll on Tuesday by Ipsos Sopra-Steria, meanwhile, showed Macron winning by 56 percent to 44 percent, again with Le Pen up by around three points in a week.
Aides to Macron sought to play down the change, with one advisor saying Tuesday that it was a simple correction after a sharp rise in support following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
“We knew he wasn’t going to stay so high,” the advisor told AFP on condition of anonymity.
But the shift in momentum is being seized on by Le Pen and her anti-immigration National Rally party, with between a quarter and a third of voters believed to be undecided about how to cast their ballots.
“I have never been so close to victory,” Le Pen told Le Parisien newspaper in an interview published Saturday.
She has placed less emphasis on her traditional themes of Islam and immigration in favour of a grassroots campaign focused on the economic problems faced by low-income families and the working classes.
– Inflation fears –
Macron has largely shunned the election campaign so far, but during his first public walkabout to meet voters on Monday in the eastern town of Dijon, he heard plenty of complaints about inflation and rocketing fuel prices.
“Everything is going up… put yourself in the position of a French family. It can’t carry on, people will go nuts,” one 46-year-old salesman told him.
Macron has also been forced to defend his government’s use of costly outside consulting firms such as the US-based McKinsey following a highly critical report from the Senate this month.
The investigation found that the value of such contracts had more than doubled between 2018 and 2021, reaching more than a billion euros ($1.1 billion) last year, a record.
Macron has denied that his governments used consultants more than their predecessors, while adding that additional help was required during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic when ministries and civil servants were stretched thin.
“It’s a complicated issue that will sway those who were already convinced that Macron is a ‘president of the rich,’ but it’s not a widespread issue,” political analyst Philippe Moreau Chevrolet told AFP, referring to the label given to Macron, a former investment banker, by his critics.
“It counts much less than questions around household income and spiralling inflation and even fears about food supplies,” added Moreau Chevrolet, also the founder of MCBG Conseil, a PR agency specialised in political communication.
Experts emphasise that pre-election polls are a snapshot of voting intentions at the time they are conducted, and that the outcome of the election next month remains uncertain.