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Far-Right Marine Le Pen Leads French Polls But Still Seen Losing Runoff

Populist parties throughout Europe have risen in the polls recently, energized by the election of President Donald Trump and by Britain's vote to leave the EU.
Image: Marine Le Pen poses Wednesday ahead of a television interview.
Marine Le Pen poses ahead of a television interview on Wednesday.PATRICK KOVARIK / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: Reuters

Bouyed by the populist wave washing across Europe, French far right leader Marine Le Pen remains the favorite to win the first round of her country's presidential election, according to polls out Thursday.

But the surveys also show Le Pen's anti-euro, anti-immigrant National Front (FN) party losing the subsequent runoff against either the center-right party candidate Francois Fillon or centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron.

Populist parties throughout Europe, energized by the election of President Donald Trump and by Britain's "Brexit" vote to leave the European Union (EU), have risen in the polls recently.

Le Pen's platform also calls for exiting the EU, stopping free movement at the French border, sending asylum seekers back to their native countries, and introducing tariffs as part of protectionist economic policies to put "France first."

It would not be the first time a Front National candidate named Le Pen made it through the first round of a French presidential election.

Le Pen's father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, won enough votes in 2002 to take on incumbent President Jacques Chirac in the second round. Le Pen lost, but the fact the National Front founder got that far stunned pollsters and journalists. It also mobilized voters, who handed Chirac a resounding reelection victory.

Chirac got 82 percent of the final vote, while Jean-Marie Le Pen garnered only 18 percent.

The latest polls that show Marie Le Pen leading are in line with a slew of other opinion surveys over the last few weeks.

A Harris Interactive poll had Le Pen leading in the April 23 first round, but in the runoff Macron is predicted to secure 60 percent against her 40 percent. Fillon would get 57 percent to Le Pen's 43 percent in the May 7 second round, it showed.

If Fillon faced off against Le Pen in the runoff instead of Macron, he would receive 55 percent against her 45 percent, a narrower margin of victory.

A separate BVA poll showed Macron beating Le Pen comfortably, by 61 percent to 39 percent, in the May 7 runoff vote.

Both polls were conducted before Wednesday evening's announcement that veteran centrist Francois Bayrou would ally with Macron. His endorsement cheered investors nervous about France's economic prospects under Le Pen.

The campaigns of both Le Pen and of Fillon, a former prime minister, have been shaken by investigations into allegations that they misused public money. Both have denied any wrongdoing.

Le Pen has been accused of paying her chief of staff and bodyguard illicitly from European Parliament funds that she is now being pressed by the assembly to repay the money.

Fillon, 62, was once the election front runner but is now engulfed in a scandal over salaries paid to his wife and children out of public funds for work they may not have carried out. He says they did do the work for which they were paid.

Macron, a 39-year-old ex-banker who has never held elected office, could benefit from his cleaner image as well as from Bayrou's endorsement.

Polls have suggested that Bayrou, 65, who has the support of about five percent of French voters, could provide Macron enough votes in a tight race and get him in the runoff.

Macron says he wants to transcend the classic left-right divide in French politics and has drawn huge crowds to rallies that easily equal those of his closest rivals.