- Title: FRANCE: French vote turning into two-horse race, but many still undecided
- Date: 19th April 2007
- Summary: VARIOUS POSTERS OF SOCIALIST CANDIDATE SEGOLENE ROYAL
- Embargoed: 4th May 2007 13:00
- Location: France
- Country: France
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA74XO9ULNNDP8R0WZMD7AH9AYP
- Story Text: France's presidential election looks increasingly like a two-horse race, with the frontrunners, conservative Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Segolene Royal, battling for supremacy while other candidates are losing ground.
"The polls are now showing that there is a more significant gap between Segolene Royal and Francois Bayrou," David Levy from the CSA polling institute told Reuters on Wednesday (April 18). "If the vote were held today then Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal would be going through to the second round of the presidential elections."
However, polls suggested that between 30 and 40 percent of voters were still undecided, meaning an upset could still jolt French politics.
"A good third of voters are still undecided," Levy said. "That actually means that they can't settle on whom to vote for, they may be hesitating between two or three candidates, and this is primarily due to the fact that there isn't a central theme of the campaign. We have a constant zapping between the themes, and one theme follows another, and that means that the voters are hesitating."
An opinion poll published by CSA Institute on Tuesday (April 17) suggested Sarkozy and Royal would cruise past their rivals in the April 22 first round vote and then tie in a run-off ballot on May 6.
Sarkozy, the tough-talking former interior minister, has led Royal in recent weeks and the CSA poll was the first to put the two on level terms since March 21.
"It depends on the way they present their campaigns. Some are more impulsive than others, some are more moderate. So for the moment I am undecided," said one undecided voter, hesitating between Royal and centrist Francois Bayrou.
"I am a conservative and so, frankly, I prefer Nicolas Sarkozy," said one man. "I hesitated slightly about whether to vote for Bayrou, but this idea of a centrist France with a coalition of the left and right has never worked, and although Mr Bayrou has excellent ideas, I don't think it would work. So I will make my vote count and vote for Nicolas Sarkozy."
Royal, who wants to become France's first woman president, has had trouble asserting her credibility during the campaign and pollsters have warned that many undecided voters might spurn her in favour of the centrist candidate.
Sandrine Harpinogeres saw faults with both the left and the right-wing candidates, but did not believe Bayrou would be able to unite them.
"With Bayrou, I don't see how this coalition of the left and right should work," she said "It is hard enough with just one or the other, so the two of them united is impossible, not with the trade unions preventing progress. So I don't know what we can do with him."
However, political analysts said voters would swing behind Royal, despite persisting doubts over her high-spending manifesto proposals, if they thought it would prevent a repeat of the presidential elections in 2002 when a climate of indifference helped far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen beat the Socialist candidate and finish a shock second.
"I am going to vote for Segolene Royal because there isn't a choice, not out of conviction," said Caroline Royal. "It is true that the events five years ago scared everyone, quite frankly we do not want Sarkozy and Le Pen in the second round, so yes, I will make my vote count."
The presidential election has increasingly become a referendum on Sarkozy, whose uncompromising line on immigration and crime appeals to many on the right, but whose high-octane personality has been vilified by opponents.
Posters of a smiling Sarkozy have been systematically defaced on billboards across France, while the images of the other 11 candidates have largely been left untouched.
France finds itself at the crossroads after 12 years of rule by Jacques Chirac, and whoever replaces him will have to tackle perennially high unemployment, deep social tensions and steep national debt.
With the stakes so high, voters have been following the campaign closely. Liberation newspaper published a poll showing 67 percent of French people were engaged by the 2007 debate.
Surveys have shown Le Pen, who is fiercely opposed to immigration, anchored in fourth place this time around, with the CSA poll seeing him at
5 percent on April 22, against 27 percent for Sarkozy, 25 percent for Royal and 19 for Bayrou.
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