October 6, 2016 / 9:45 AM / 3 years ago

Juppe ahead, Hollande recovers slightly as French election looms: polls

PARIS (Reuters) - Alain Juppe remains the favorite to win next year’s French presidential election but voter confidence in incumbent Francois Hollande has also rebounded slightly compared with the lows of a month ago, the latest opinion polls show.

French presidential hopeful Alain Juppe, seeking to win his centre-right Les Republicains party's nomination in primaries in November, attends a political rally in Strasbourg, France, September 13, 2016. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

The polls by Harris Interactive for France Televisions and by YouGov for iTele and Huffington Post were both bad news for Juppe’s main rival for the center-right ticket, Nicolas Sarkozy, who lost ground in each, confirming a trend in other recent studies.

The Harris poll on voting intentions showed the mild-mannered Juppe winning the November primaries battle against the more abrasive and energetic Sarkozy, with 39 percent of the first-round vote versus 35 for the former president.

In mid-September, the same pollster had the rivals neck and neck on 37 percent.

In the second round of those center-right primaries, Juppe, a former prime minister and the oldest of the likely main candidates at 71, would garner 53 percent of votes against Sarkozy’s 47, it said.

The separate YouGov poll focused on the approval ratings of the potential candidates. According to the Huffington Post, Socialist Hollande has a favorable opinion among 16 percent of voters, up from 14 last month and his best score since May.

Without giving further comparable rating figures, it said the poll showed Juppe was by far the most popular politician in France, while Sarkozy had sunk into its bottom five in its rankings table for his second worse standing since his return to politics in 2014.

Hollande’s modest recovery in popularity comes despite some bad August unemployment figures last week, and despite the fact that joblessness - stuck at over 10 percent of the workforce - is among the biggest of French voters’ concerns.

However a poll earlier this week suggested Hollande may not even get a chance to stand. It put rival Arnaud Montebourg ahead of him in the Socialist Party’s own selection process, likely to be in January. The Huffington Post also said Jean-Luc Melenchon, another likely candidate on the left, had entered its top five for popularity.

Polls have consistently shown that whoever wins the center-right party ticket is odds-on favorite to win the election itself, the first round of which takes place next April.

Hollande remains deeply unpopular and his Socialist party divided.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen is on course for a place in a head-to-head second round in May, but will almost certainly fail to win, polls show.

Reporting by Julie Carriat and Andrew Callus; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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