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PARIS (Reuters) - Socialist Segolene Royal failed to win over a majority of women voters in France's presidential election and may have paid a price for focusing too much on her gender at the expense of promoting her policies.
Only 48 percent of women voted for Royal, according to an Ipsos poll conducted on election day on Sunday, while 52 percent supported rightist rival and overall winner Nicolas Sarkozy.
The weak female support is a bitter personal blow for Royal, who had played up her feminist credentials throughout the campaign, frequently defending policies she would want "as a mother" and accusing critics of male chauvinism.
Some women said the glamorous Royal, a mother of four, had focused too much on the symbolism linked to becoming France's first female president.
"The reason she did not have the female vote is not because there was no solidarity but because she was not up to it," said Tita Zeitoun, founder of the Action de Femme group which fights to get more women into top business positions.
"Just because you're a feminist, you don't vote for a women who does not have the ability. We're talking about the presidential election here ... It's too serious to link this to a phenomenon of femininity or feminism," she said.
Many voters complained Royal's policies lacked coherence compared to the proposals by Sarkozy, "the candidate for work", who promised rewards for those who worked hard and said he would undermine the 35-hour work week by cutting taxes on overtime.
The Ipsos poll showed a majority of private sector workers, pensioners and self-employed voted for Sarkozy, while Royal gained support among the unemployed and those aged under 25.
Royal had campaigned on leftist economic plans, including an increase in the minimum wage. She also pledged to make France a fairer place, saying she would promote the equal treatment of men and women and to fight violence against women.
Statistics show women in France are far from equal. Just 12 percent of lawmakers are female and only one woman heads a firm in the CAC-40 index of blue chip companies, and she is American.
"For some of you, it will not be obvious to say a woman can incarnate the highest responsibility," Royal said in a televised debate last week, calling on voters to make an "audacious" choice.
But political analysts said Royal might have appeared aloof for some women from more modest backgrounds.
"There is a gap between her image, an image of a woman who belongs to the elite, who has done the ENA (elite school for civil servants), who has the look of women having acquired a high level of education," said sociologist Mariette Sineau.
"She appears very different to working-class women," Sineau added, noting that Royal had visited poorly paid women working as supermarket cashiers only towards the end of her campaign.
Royal's support among older voters was particularly poor, with 64 percent of women above the age of 60 supporting Sarkozy, and only 36 percent voting for Royal, according to the Ipsos survey. Women under 35 were split between her and Sarkozy.