PARIS — French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s lead over Socialist Francois Hollande is becalmed or shrinking ahead of the first round of a presidential election on April 22 and he still trails in the runoff, three polls showed on Tuesday.
The conservative Sarkozy, fighting an uphill battle for a second term, saw his lead for the first ballot slip to half a percentage point from 2 points a week ago in a poll by Ipsos Logica, with 29 percent support to Hollande’s 28.5 percent.
The same poll showed Hollande retaining a 10-point lead in voting intentions for the May 6 runoff with 55 percent to Sarkozy’s 45 percent, unchanged from a week earlier.
All three surveys showed far right candidate Marine le Pen in third place, ahead of hard left campaigner Jean-Luc Melenchon in fourth.
The election race promises a tight finish between Sarkozy, who is being punished for economic gloom and his flashy style, and the more popular but bland Hollande, whose message of higher taxes for the rich has found fertile ground.
Sarkozy, an aggressive debater, challenged his rival at the weekend to two television debates between the rounds but Hollande deflected the call, saying it was presumptuous to prejudge the second round when voters had not yet cast their ballots in the first.
An Ifop Fiducial poll showed Sarkozy with 28.5 percent to Hollande’s 27 percent in the first round, unchanged over the last month – but Hollande’s lead in the run-off narrowed to six points from eight points two weeks ago, with 53 percent to Sarkozy’s 47 percent.
A third poll by Harris Interactive gave Sarkozy a one-point lead in the first round at 28 percent to Hollande’s 27, down from 3 points a week earlier. It too put Hollande ahead of Sarkozy 53 to 47 in the runoff.
The president enjoyed a brief boost in the polls last month after a killing spree by a militant gunman and the ensuing siege enabled him to play his preferred role of crisis manager.
He has a chance to breathe fresh air into his campaign in prime-time television appearances on Tuesday and Thursday after the presentation of his full election manifesto last week failed to give him much uplift in the polls. Hollande will also have the chance to fight back with his own prime-time television appearance on Wednesday.
The Socialist’s first round score has dwindled only slightly as the more fiery Melenchon has picked up momentum on the left. Ipsos gave Melenchon 14.5 percent of the first-round vote and Ifop and Harris 14. Hollande renewed an offer on Monday to include Communists in his government if elected. — Reuters