(Reuters) - France’s far-right National Front (FN) will lead first-round voting in departmental elections next March, a poll released on Tuesday said, underlining the emergence of the party as a major force in French politics.
A survey by pollster Odoxa found the FN would win 28 percent of the vote, ahead of the conservative UMP on 25 percent and the ruling Socialist Party on 17 percent, if the vote in France’s 101 departments were held now. That would be almost double what it scored in the first round of the last such elections in 2011.
In departments where a second-round run-off is needed, the UMP would nonetheless lead with 39 percent, followed by the Socialists on 32 percent and the Front National at 29 percent, the Odoxa poll of 1,002 people on Dec 11-12 found.
The lagging figures are the latest blow to President Francois Hollande, whose failure to combat high unemployment and reduce high levels of taxation has cemented his position as the most unpopular French president in polling history.
Moreover the poll showed 58 percent of respondents now see the National Front as “a party like any other”, the latest sign the group is shaking off its image as an extremist party.
Frustration with parties on the mainstream right and left combined with rising Euroscepticism have bolstered support for the anti-immigrant, anti-EU party, which already came first in this year’s European Parliament elections in France.
Le Pen, who took over leadership of the party from her father Jean-Marie in 2011, has sought to clean up the image of a party once associated by many French with anti-Semitism. She was re-elected with a 100 percent mandate at a congress last month.
Reporting By Hannah Murphy' editing by Mark John