Macron on brink as gap with Le Pen narrows ‘very seriously’ in latest election poll

Voters see Le Pen as credible and experienced says expert

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French far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, whose presidential campaign has gained momentum in recent days, on Monday, April 4, captured 48.5 percent of voter intentions in an opinion poll of a likely runoff against Emmanuel Macron, the highest score she has ever notched. Harris Interactive in a poll for business weekly Challenges said that a victory by Macron – which pollsters considered almost a foregone conclusion in past months – was now within the margin of error.

“This is the first time that the two finalists of (the presidential election in) 2017 are tested so close,” Challenges said on its website, adding that in March, Macron’s lead still ranged between 53-47 percent and 58-42 percent.

Monday’s Harris Interactive poll – in line with every other survey over the last month – still shows Macron as the likely winner.

But his lead has shrunk substantially as he entered the campaign late, apparently distracted by the Ukraine crisis.

He has focused on rather unpopular economic reforms including raising the retirement age, unsettling his camp.

Less than one week ahead of the first election round, Le Pen’s focus on the declining purchasing power of middle- and lower-income voters has paid off. Her ratings have continued to improve for both the first round and the April 24 runoff.

Earlier on Monday, a poll by OpinionWay and Kéa Partners for Les Echos daily and Radio Classique also forecast a narrowing 53 percent-47 percent margin of victory for Macron.

In 2017, Macron won the runoff vote against Le Pen with 66 percent.

Commenting on the poll, French daily Challenges said the gap between the two candidates is getting “very seriously” narrow.

Macron’s 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.

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.

The pair battled over pension reform on Monday.

“Do you realise what retirement at 65 is? It’s simply completely unfair,” she told BFM TV, lambasting Macron’s plan to increase the legal age at which one gets a full pension from 62 to 65.

Le Pen wants to keep the 62-year-old threshold, and bring it down to 60 for those who started working before age 20.

Pushing back the retirement age would hurt workers, she said, arguing that many would not manage to find a job at that age and would see their pension hit as a consequence Macron, asked about criticism of his pension reform plans, told France Inter radio: “Those who tell you we can keep (the pension system) as it is now are lying to you.”

Raising the retirement age – with exceptions for those who have tough jobs or worked longer than others – was needed to make the system viable and increase low pensions, he said.

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Macron, when he belatedly entered the election campaign last month, said he would increase the retirement age, cut taxes and further loosen labour market rules, seeking a mandate to press on with pro-business reforms.

Stressing his pro-business credentials was not without risk as households feel the squeeze from rising prices and could put off a number of leftwing voters from backing him against Le Pen in a likely run-off on April 24.

On Saturday, in his only campaign rally before the first round, Macron tried to convince voters of the risk of a Brexit-style election upset that could see Le Pen take the far-right to power in France.

“Look at what happened with Brexit, and so many other elections: what looked improbable actually happened,” he said.

“Nothing is impossible.”

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