French President Emmanuel Macron is facing a closer-than-expected fight to be re-elected in the French presidential elections after a shock poll showed him barely in front of far-right challenger Marine Le Pen in a potential final-round vote.
A poll from Harris Interactive showed Mr Macron beating Ms Le Pen by only three points, 51.5 per cent to 48.5 per cent, if they qualify for the final run-off in this Sunday’s first round of voting.
It is the closest result on record in a survey comparing the two candidates, who faced off in the second round of the 2017 election – when Mr Macron won by the far more convincing margin of 66 per cent to 34 per cent.
Other recent polls have shown Mr Macron, 44, with a larger but not invincible lead of six to eight points, after a bounce for the president following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine gave way to a burst of momentum for Ms Le Pen.
Ms Le Pen, the 53-year-old leader of the far-right National Rally who has sought to moderate her image in recent years, has focused on bread-and-butter issues such as the cost of living in France in the campaign’s final days.
Focusing on Ukraine, Mr Macron waited until the last moment to formally declare his candidacy and held his first major campaign rally on Saturday, eight days before the first round.
“I have been campaigning seriously, I've been in the field for six months ... others chose not to campaign, including the president of the republic,” said Ms Le Pen in a radio interview.
Supporters of mainstream parties have united in the past to keep Ms Le Pen and her father Jean-Marie Le Pen out of power but there are concerns that this “republican front” could be fraying.
“Marine Le Pen could be elected president,” said former prime minister Manuel Valls, who is supporting the centrist Mr Macron, in a guest article in French media. “It’s one minute to midnight.”
Mr Macron has sought to project statesmanship in his response to the Ukraine crisis, using France’s six-month presidency of the European Union to put himself at the centre of the bloc’s foreign and defence policy.
The Harris poll showed Mr Macron on course to win the first round with 26.5 per cent of the vote and Ms Le Pen in second with 23 per cent. The top two candidates qualify for the run-off two weeks later.
Left-wing candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon was in third with 17 per cent, while centre-right Valerie Pecresse and far-right Eric Zemmour were tied on 9.5 per cent after both lost steam following early surges in the polls.
Mr Macron would win far more comfortably against any of those candidates if Ms Le Pen failed to make the run-off, surveys suggest.
Environmentalist candidate Yannick Jadot and Socialist Party nominee Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, are some way off the pace in the 12-candidate field.