France heads for tight Macron-Le Pen election duel on April 24

PARIS, April 4 (Reuters) - France faces a repeat of the 2017 election showdown between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen with Macron still favoured but in a much tighter race, opinion polls show ahead of the first round of voting on Sunday.

Five years ago Macron beat Le Pen with an overwhelming 66.1% of the vote in the second-round runoff, with voters of all stripes rallying behind the centrist newcomer to beat the far-right candidate.

Now, a poll by OpinionWay and Kéa Partners for the Les Echos daily and Radio Classique became the latest on Monday to forecast a much narrower 53%-47% margin of victory for Macron.

His lead has shrunk substantially as, apparently distracted by the Ukraine crisis, he entered the campaign late and has focused on rather unpopular economic reforms including raising the retirement age, unsettling his camp. read more

Official campaign posters of French President and centrist LREM party candidate for re-election Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, leader of French far-right National Rally (Rassemblement National) party, are displayed at France Affichage Plus dispatch hub in Mitry-Mory, outside Paris, France, March 22, 2022. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Meanwhile, Le Pen has seen her campaign focused on the declining purchasing power of middle- and lower-income voters pay off, with her ratings continuing to improve for both the first round and the April 24 runoff.

For Sunday's first round, OpinionWay projects Macron to take 28% of the votes and Le Pen at 22%.

All other candidates have fallen far behind and would struggle to qualify for the runoff, barring a major surprise.

The hard left's Jean-Luc Melenchon is seen with some 14% of the first round vote, OpinionWay found, with the far-right Eric Zemmour and conservative Valerie Pecresse - once seen as serious contenders for the run-off ticket - down to 9% each.

Writing by Ingrid Melander Editing by Mark Heinrich

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