French Socialist Hamon Quietly Rises in Election Polls

  • Surveys still show him missing run-off, but getting closer
  • Race thrown into turmoil by Fillon family revelations

As the French presidential campaign of Francois Fillon implodes, the Socialist Party’s candidate is slowing emerging as an unlikely contender.

Benoit Hamon was given little chance of ever being France’s next president when he won the primary of a deeply divided Socialist party. But since his victory last Sunday, the 49-year-old former education minister, whose signature issue is a basic universal income, has jumped in polls.

Benoit Hamon

Photographer: Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images

The Socialist candidate’s surge is the latest twist in an election that has seen President Francois Hollande become the first sitting French president not to seek a second mandate because of record unpopularity and ended the career of his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy. So far Hamon has succeeded thanks to former Hollande voters and backers of far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon. His challenge will now be to reach beyond that, analysts said.

“Hamon is surfing on the momentum of the primary,” said Yves-Marie Cann, a pollster at Elabe in Paris. “He has managed to win the support of former Hollande voters who were disappointed with Hollande but who until now were tempted to vote for Melenchon. The hardest task may be ahead of him: expanding on that base.”

Wednesday’s daily tracking poll by Ifop showed him with 18 percent of voting intentions in the April 23 first round. While that puts him in fourth place, it’s more than double what he was credited with before the primary and places him within striking distance of taking the second place spot that would qualify for the May 7 run-off.

The poll had National Front candidate Marine Le Pen on 24 percent, Republican Francois Fillon second with 21 percent, and independent Emmanuel Macron third with 20 percent.

Hamon, who ran with a campaign aimed at those on the left flank of the party, has sought to win back moderate Socialists put off by his 2014 decision to quit Hollande’s government in protest over what he said was a pro-business turn. In an interview Monday on France 2, he cited positive achievements of the government such as gay marriage, opposing the free trade deal with the U.S., and hiring more teachers. On Thursday, he met Hollande to discuss European and foreign policy issues, a visit created to give him more presidential stature. Hollande isn’t running for re-election and has yet to endorse a candidate.

In a monthly Kantar Sofres poll for Figaro Magazine released Thursday where people are asked the questions “which of the following political personalities would you like to see more of in coming months,” Hamon jumped 14 points to 33 percent, while Macron fell one point to 38 percent and Fillon fell four to 27 percent.

Fillon’s campaign has been thrown into crisis by revelations that his wife was paid as a parliamentary aide while possibly doing doing no or little work.

An Elabe poll Wednesday showed Le Pen with 26 to 27 percent, Macron 22 to 23 percent, and Fillon 19 to 20 percent. Hamon was further back with 16 to 17 percent, but that was an increase of 10 points from polls carried out before the primary.

(Updates with chart after fifth paragraph. An earlier version of this story corrected polling prospects in first sub-head.)
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