Popular François Hollande closing gap on slick Nicolas Sarkozy

FRENCH president Nicolas Sarkozy’s lead over Socialist François Hollande is becalmed or shrinking ahead of the first round of a presidential election on 22 April and he still trails in the run-off, three new polls say.

The conservative Mr Sarkozy, fighting an uphill battle for a second term, saw his lead for the first ballot slip to half a percentage point from two points a week ago in a poll published yesterday by Ipsos Logica, with 29 per cent support to Mr Hollande’s 28.5 per cent.

The same poll showed Mr Hollande retaining a ten-point lead in voting intentions for the 6 May run-off with 55 per cent to Mr Sarkozy’s 45 per cent, unchanged from a week earlier.

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The election race promises a tight finish between Mr Sarkozy, who is being punished for economic gloom and his flashy style, and the more popular but bland Mr Hollande, whose message of higher taxes for the rich has found fertile ground.

Mr Sarkozy, an aggressive debater, challenged his rival at the weekend to two TV debates between the rounds, but Mr Hollande deflected the call, saying said it was presumptuous to prejudge the second round when voters had not cast their ballots in the first.

An Ifop Fiducial poll showed Mr Sarkozy with 28.5 per cent to Mr Hollande’s 27 per cent in the first round, unchanged over the last month.

However, Mr Hollande’s lead in the run-off narrowed to six points from eight two weeks ago – 53 per cent to Mr Sarkozy’s 47 per cent.

A third poll by Harris Interactive gave Mr Sarkozy a one-point lead in the first round at 28 per cent to Mr Hollande’s 27, down from three points a week earlier. It too put Mr Hollande ahead of Sarkozy 53 to 47 in the run-off.