PARIS (Reuters) - Conservative French President Nicolas Sarkozy has caught up with his Socialist challenger in the first round of a presidential election next month and is whittling away his strong lead for the runoff in May, three polls showed on Tuesday.
An IPSOS Logica poll found Francois Hollande, vying to be France’s first Socialist president since 1995, would win 28 percent of the vote in the April 22 first round, narrowly ahead of Sarkozy’s 27.5 percent.
The poll, conducted at the end of last week shortly after police shot dead an Islamist gunman who had killed seven people, showed Hollande had shed half a percentage point in a week while Sarkozy had held his ground.
However, it showed Hollande still beating Sarkozy in the May 6 runoff by 54 percent to 46 percent, although the president had narrowed the margin to eight points from 12.
While a few polls have put Sarkozy ahead in the first round, all have shown him narrowing the gap with his Socialist rival since the shootings and siege, which thrust the president into his preferred role of crisis manager.
Graphic of polls, click on: r.reuters.com/was36s
Election online: tinyurl.com/7hpt4vy
A Harris Interactive poll showed Sarkozy overtaking Hollande in the first round, giving him 28 percent of the vote to 27. It also showed Sarkozy had cut Hollande’s lead in the runoff to eight points at 54-46 percent.
A separate daily Ifop-Fiducial poll, which has already seen Sarkozy leapfrog Hollande in the first round earlier this month, showed the president slightly widening his first-round lead to 28.5 against 26.5 percent.
It showed Hollande’s lead in the runoff had fallen to seven points with the Socialist candidate at 53.5 percent and Sarkozy at 46.5 percent.
All three surveys showed hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon making strong gains, overtaking centrist Francois Bayrou, which could force Hollande to campaign further to the left than the mainstream social democrat would otherwise do.
While the shootings may have given Sarkozy a small poll boost, they have not proved to be a game-changer with voters primary concerns being dwindling purchasing power and surging unemployment, according to a survey by pollsters BVA.
Only eight percent of those polled said that security and immigration were their top concerns, far behind 42 percent who cited purchasing power and 30 percent unemployment.
With the jobless total at its highest level since October 1999, Sarkozy is struggling to convince voters that he is the best person to steer France’s economy towards recovery.
The Ipsos Logica poll was based on interviews with 978 people on March 23-24 and was conducted for France Televisions, Radio France and newspaper Le Monde.
Nearly 900 people were interviewed on March 22-25 for the Ifop-Fiducial poll on behalf of weekly magazine Paris Match and the Harris Interactive poll was based on interviews with 1,200 people on March 22-26. It was conducted weekly magazine VSD and TV channel LCP.
Polls with a sample of around 1,000 have a margin of error of about 3 percentage points.
Reporting by Leigh Thomas; Editing by Paul Taylor