Macron Opens Lead Over Fillon in France’s Biggest Monthly Poll

  • Front-runner Macron on 23 percent with Fillon trailing
  • Le Pen favorite to reach second round, still likely to lose

The independent front-runner Emmanuel Macron opened up a 4.5 percentage-point advantage over his closest challenger in France’s presidential election, Francois Fillon, in the most comprehensive monthly poll of voters’ sentiment.

Twenty-three percent of respondents said they plan to back Macron in April’s first round vote compared with 18.5 percent for Fillon in an Ipsos-Sopra Steria survey of 15,874 people published by Le Monde newspaper and conducted between Feb. 7 and Feb. 12. National Front leader Marine Le Pen leads the polling for first round with 26 percent, but all surveys so far have shown that she’ll lose by a significant margin in May’s run-off, whoever she faces.

Emmanuel Macron

Photographer: Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg

In his first ever political campaign, Macron is facing a slugging match with the Republican veteran Fillon for the second slot in that run-off and daily tracking polls have shown the gap between them narrowing to as little as one percentage point in recent days.

Fillon, a former prime minister who started the year as the front-runner, has seen his support stabilize after being buffeted at the start of the month by reports that his wife earned a public salary as a parliamentary aide without doing an appropriate amount of work. Fillon Wednesday called for new partnerships with Russia, tighter fiscal policy and tougher criminal laws for youths.

All the same, the Republican candidate is facing dissent within his party and is struggling to draw a line under the issue. French prosecutors on Thursday said that the investigation will continue in light of their preliminary findings while the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine, which triggered the prosecutors’ probe, reported that one of Fillon’s senior advisers is being investigated for tax evasion.

Read more: an explainer on French election polls

Data published today showed France’s unemployment rate edging lower, declining by 0.1 point in the fourth quarter to 10 percent -- the lowest since late 2012. Even so, the drop was smaller than economists forecast. The improvement has been too slow to help President Francois Hollande, the first head of state in half a century not to seek a second term in office, in part because of his inability to generate jobs.

Economy and Security

Macron, a 39-year-old and former economy minister under Hollande, will pledge to cut the share of government spending in gross domestic product by 3 percentage points to 53.5 percent within five years, estimating potential savings of about 60 billion euros ($64 billion), Les Echos reported. In addition to cutting staff within the ranks of government, Macron would cut payments to local government, the newspaper said.

While Macron, a former investment banker, is looking to demonstrate his economic-policy credentials, he’s also facing attacks from his Le Pen on his perceived weakness on security.

With polls showing fears about immigration and public security topping the list of voter concerns, Le Pen’s National Front attacked Macron on Thursday for saying that “crimes against humanity” were committed by the French state in its former colonies.

“We want to stop apologizing,” National Front Vice President Florian Philippot said in an LCI interview, calling Macron’s comments “irresponsible.”

Le Pen this week started an on-line petition to support the police after a policeman was charged with raping a black man on Feb. 2, triggering riots as well as peaceful protests throughout France. Hundreds gathered to the cries of “the police are racist” in cities such as Paris and Rouen Wednesday, and more protests are expected in coming days.

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