French centrist Bayrou leads in popularity, new poll shows
Centrist presidential candidate François Bayrou leads President Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist François Hollande in French popularity polls, a survey showed on Monday, but remains in fourth place regarding voter intentions.
REUTERS - Centrist politician Francois Bayrou is more popular than his rivals for the French presidency a poll showed on Monday, suggesting he could make a surge similar to 2007 when he almost squeezed into a two-candidate runoff.
Although the former education minister remains in fourth place in terms of voter intentions, Bayrou has been stealing support from President Nicolas Sarkozy and also from Socialist candidate Francois Hollande, who has led the field since announcing in December that he was running for president.
Bayrou's approval rating jumped to 56 percent at the start of January, a 20 percentage point rise in five months, according to the IPSOS popularity poll for weekly magazine Paris-Match.
Bayrou set up his own centrist party - the Democratic Movement Party (MoDem) - after narrowly failing to get through the first round of the 2007 election, with close to 19 percent of the vote.
He became known as the "Third Man" in that race, courted by both right- and left-wing mainstream parties who wanted his endorsement in the runoff .
Monday's poll was based on interviews with 948 people of voting age on Jan. 13 and 14. It puts Bayrou on an even standing with Hollande, but a greater proportion said they disapproved of the latter.
The survey, taken just after France was downgraded by ratings agency Standard & Poor's, shows Sarkozy's approval rating slipped 2 points to 34 percent. Sixty-three percent of respondents said they disapproved of his performance.
Monday's daily IFOP poll showed that Hollande had 28.5 percent support and Sarkozy had 25 percent in terms of voter intentions for the first round of the election on April 22.
Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen came third with 20 percent while Bayrou was in fourth with 12.5 percent, though he has regularly been polling around 15-16 percent.