Marine Le Pen Poll Rating Shock for French Politics

BBC News, March 6, 2011

An opinion poll suggesting far-right leader Marine Le Pen could win the first round of next year’s presidential election has caused a shock in France.

The survey for Le Parisien newspaper puts the National Front leader, who took over from her father Jean-Marie in January, ahead of all other candidates.

It gives her 23% of the vote, 2% ahead of both President Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist leader Martine Aubry.

However, some analysts question the accuracy of the online poll.

Online surveys are arguably less reliable than telephone polling, and Le Parisien’s poll assumes Ms Aubry will be chosen as the Socialists’ candidate, while the party has yet to decide.

Jean-Marie Le Pen was the shock runner-up in the first round of the 2002 election, only to be massively defeated in the second against Jacques Chirac.

Unwise to ignore

Nonetheless, for the new far-right leader to be ahead of both President Sarkozy and Ms Aubry is an astonishing result, the BBC’s Hugh Schofield reports from Paris.

A story on the website of the left-of-centre daily Liberation says “politicians are hesitating between prudence and panic after the poll”.

On the basis of this opinion poll of 1,618 people, Ms Le Pen would automatically qualify for the second round run-off with one or other of the two mainstream party leaders.

In 2002, Jean-Marie Le Pen achieved second place, not first, in the first round, and his poll ratings were never as high as his daughter’s are now, our correspondent notes.

Marine Le Pen, 42 , has proved a canny successor to her father.

Where he was a brash provocateur with a devoted but clearly circumscribed following, her trump card is a kind of woman-on-the-street ordinariness which potentially has an even wider appeal among working and middle class voters, our correspondent says.

She has been at pains to junk some of the more overtly offensive aspects of the National Front’s programme.

She is riding high on the sense of dissatisfaction that is not so much a wave as a permanent condition in France, our correspondent says.

As this poll suggests, there is in the country an entrenched appetite for anti-establishment, curse-on-all-your-houses populism – which the mainstream parties would be most unwise to ignore.

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