French centre-right wants Sarkozy re-election despite legal woes-poll

PARIS, July 17 Thu Jul 17, 2014 6:18am EDT

PARIS, July 17 (Reuters) - A clear majority of French centre-right voters want former president Nicolas Sarkozy to seek re-election in 2017 and his support has grown despite legal troubles facing him and his party, an opinion survey showed on Thursday.

The Ifop poll published by the Atlantico news web site showed that 60 percent of UMP opposition party supporters want Sarkozy, who lost a re-election bid to Socialist President Francois Hollande in 2012, to try again in 2017.

Sarkozy's support has risen by 10 percentage points since early May. The poll was conducted after Sarkozy was placed under formal investigation in early July on suspicion that he tried to influence magistrates examining his 2007 election campaign finances.

The UMP itself is in the midst of a legal inquiry into whether party officials used its books to cover up millions of euros of overspending on Sarkozy's 2012 election campaign.

Sarkozy has denied all wrongdoing in both cases.

"Far from weakening Sarkozy, they (legal woes) have reinforced his domination over his camp, as if a large majority of UMP voters were standing behind the man they see as a last resort," said Ifop analyst Jerome Fourquet, referring to the 2017 presidential vote.

The UMP, rocked this month by an audit which revealed an 80-million-euro funding shortfall, is due to choose a new leader at a congress scheduled for November, with ex-prime minister Alain Juppe expected to bid for the post.

But while Juppe is popular with UMP voters, only 18 percent said they wanted to see him run for president.

While Sarkozy has low approval scores with left-wing voters, his support has deepened on the centre-right due to frustration with Hollande - the most unpopular French president since World War two - and the sense he may be the right's best bet in 2017.

Sarkozy has said he will make his intentions known with regard to the election in early September.

Ifop questioned 336 UMP sympathisers between July 10 and 16. (Reporting by Nicholas Vinocur; Editing by Mark Heinrich)