Le Pen Gains in French Polls as Security Concerns Win Voters 1

Marine Le Pen gained ground on her rivals for the French election as she benefits from concerns about security while other candidates trained their fire on independent front-runner Emmanuel Macron.

Monday’s daily OpinionWay poll showed that first-round support for anti-euro candidate Le Pen rose 1 percentage point to 27 percent, with Macron and Republican Francois Fillon unchanged at 20 percent each. While no surveys so far have shown Le Pen even close to a victory in May’s run-off, she’s quickly narrowing the gap to her rivals. OpinionWay showed Macron would defeat Le Pen by 58 percent to 42 percent in the second round. His advantage has halved in less than two weeks.

Le Pen is gaining from her tough stance on the disturbances that flared up across France last week during mostly peaceful protests against police brutality. The National Front leader is tapping into voters’ unease after more than 200 people were killed in terrorist attacks in just over two years and those sentiments were stirred up again this month when a soldier in the Louvre fired five shots at an assailant armed with a machete and crying “Allah Akbar.”

The spread between French 10-year bonds and similar-maturity German bunds rose 5 basis point to 79 basis points at 1:37 p.m. in Paris, the widest risk premium in more than four years.

“It’s all about security,” said Bruno Jeanbart, director of OpinionWay. “Le Pen is benefiting from the fact that they’re all busy either bickering or unable to disentangle themselves from their many controversies.” A separate Harris poll showed that Le Pen is considered best placed to deal with security issues.

Macron, who is running for office for the first time in his career, had been leading Fillon in the polls before his first significant misstep of the campaign last week. Since then he’s taken the brunt of rivals’ attacks.

‘Television Evangelist’

Eric Woerth, a former budget minister who is supporting Fillon, called Macron a “television evangelist” on RTL Radio. Valerie Pecresse, head of the Paris regional government who also supports Fillon, said on RMC radio that Macron doesn’t have the “character” to stand up to world leaders. Thomas Piketty, an economist who advises Socialist Benoit Hamon, said on BFM TV Sunday than Macron represents “the Europe of the past that has failed.”

Macron had opened himself up to criticism on a visit to Algeria when he said that aspects of colonialism could be considered a crime against humanity. He apologized on Saturday to the French citizens who left Algeria in 1962 — when the country gained its independence — though he didn’t retract his comment and urged everyone to move on and “get along.”

Candidates are looking for voters everywhere, even among expatriates. After Algeria last week, Macron is in London Tuesday. Le Pen is in Lebanon where she met President Michel Aoun Monday, and Hamon was in Portugal over the weekend.

One threat to Macron did retreat over the weekend, as Hamon and far-left campaigner Jean-Luc Melenchon ended up trading barbs rather than laying the groundwork for a left-wing pact that could potentially vault one of them into the run-off. OpinionWay put Hamon at 16 percent and Melenchon at 12 percent, meaning a combined candidacy would be favored to make it to the second round against Le Pen.

Left-Wing Rift

All the same, Melenchon said his rival’s campaign was going nowhere and that he wasn’t about to hitch a ride on a Socialist “hearse.” Hamon fired back, saying “I won’t run after Melenchon, I don’t run after anyone.”

Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, secretary general of the Socialist Party, said that talks to unify the left would continue, but without sounding convinced. “We have no choice but to get on to face the right and far-right, or else we are out of the second round,” he said on France2 television.

Fillon, meanwhile, has stopped falling in the polls but hasn’t gained back much ground following allegations that he misused public funds to hire family members. After earlier promising that he’s quit the race if he was put under formal investigation, Fillon backtracked on that pledge in an interview with Le Figaro newspaper.

In a recorded two-minute video message on his Facebook account released Sunday, Fillon told his voters “not to let themselves be intimidated by attacks or by the few protesters.”

Le Pen has legal issues of her own. French investigators Monday searched her party’s headquarters near Paris as part of an investigation into whether she used European Parliament money to pay for jobs related to domestic politics. The parliament has already demanded repayment, while French prosecutors have opened a legal probe.

“This weekend was an all-out, run-for-your-life affair,” Yves-Marie Cann, head of political studies at pollster Elabe, said in phone interview. “More than ever, this is a presidential election of unknowns.”

The first round is April 23, with the top two going through to a May 7 run-off.