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France Election »
France's President and UMP party candidate for the 2012 French presidential elections Nicolas Sarkozy (C) is greeted by supporters as he arrives at a political rally in Elancourt, near Paris, March 28, 2012.
Credit: Reuters/Michel Euler/Pool
Wed Mar 28, 2012 4:58pm EDT
PARIS (Reuters) - Two polls on Wednesday showed France's conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy ahead of his Socialist challenger in the first round of a presidential election next month and narrowing his strong lead for the decisive run-off in May.
A survey by TNS-Sofres/Sopra group found that Sarkozy had pulled ahead in voting intentions for the April 22 first-round vote with 29 percent versus 28 percent for Francois Hollande, vying to become France's first Socialist president since 1995.
Sarkozy gained three points since the previous poll two weeks ago, while Hollande lost two points, the pollster said.
The survey of 1,000 people was conducted on Monday and Tuesday, just days after police shot dead an Islamist gunman who had killed seven people in southwest France.
A second survey by pollsters CSA showed Sarkozy consolidating his first round lead. He was steady on 30 percent for the first round, while Hollande slipped by two points to 26 percent versus a poll last month.
Both polls showed Sarkozy paring back his opponent's lead in the May 6 runoff.
The TNS-Sofres survey showed Hollande beating Sarkozy by 10 percentage points, 55 percent to 45 percent, though the gap had narrowed from 16 points in the previous poll.
The CSA poll, meanwhile, estimated a closer race. It said the gap had narrowed to 6 points, down from 8 points last month, with Hollande on 53 percent to Sarkozy's 47 percent.
Most polls now put Sarkozy ahead in the first round and 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 and France's "first policeman".
Both polls showed far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in third place on around 15 percent, despite Sarkozy's attempts to woo her support base with tough talk on immigration and security.
Sarkozy returned to the theme of immigration on the campaign trail on Wednesday, as he has done repeatedly since the shootings, to urge tougher controls on illegal immigration which he says is placing strain on France's social security system.
"We did not build Europe to see it turn into a sieve," he told a rally in Elancourt, southwest of Paris.
While the shootings may have given Sarkozy a small poll boost, they have not proved to be a game-changer. The CSA said immigration had risen in importance among voter concerns, but remained in ninth place, while high unemployment and weak purchasing power remained their top priorities.
The surveys also confirmed the recent poll rise of hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, who has challenged centrist Francois Bayrou for fourth place. The gains by Melenchon have forced Hollande to campaign further to the left than the mainstream social democrat would otherwise do.
The TNS-Sofres poll said Melenchon gained 3.5 percentage points to 13.5 percent of first-round voting intentions, while Bayrou lost 1.5 points to 10 percent. The CSA had Melenchon and Bayrou neck and neck on 12.5 percent each.
(Reporting by Daniel Flynn and Yann Le Guernigou; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
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