PARIS - Independent candidate Emmanuel Macron's campaign for the French presidency is gathering momentum, according to two polls published on Monday that showed him closing the gap with far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the first round of voting.
Until now polls have given Le Pen a clear lead in the first round on April 23 but have shown her losing the decisive second round on May 7 to either Macron or the other main challenger, center-right candidate Francois Fillon.
Macron gains ground
In an Ifop-Fiducial poll for Paris Match published on Monday, Macron, a 39-year-old former banker, is now seen gathering 24.5 percent of the votes in the first round, up one percentage point on a previous poll on Friday, below Le Pen's 26 percent but well ahead of Fillon's 20 percent.
That chimed with another poll by Opinionway published earlier on Monday, which also showed Macron gaining 1 point to 24 percent, while Le Pen was stable at 26 percent and Fillon unchanged at 21 percent.
Macron has now gained 5.5 points in the space of five days in the Ifop-Fiducial poll, while Le Pen has lost 0.5 points over the same period. Macron's momentum helped to push down French bond yields on Monday to a one-month low.
Both polls on Monday showed Macron easily beating Le Pen, leader of the anti-euro, anti-immigrant National Front in May's runoff vote with 62 percent to her 38 percent.
Scandal hurts Fillon's bid
Fillon had been the clear frontrunner until January when a scandal broke about his having paid his wife large sums of money for work she may not have done. He suffered a further blow on Friday when a prosecutor appointed judges to investigate the allegations. Fillon denies any wrongdoing.
By contrast, Macron received a boost last week when veteran centrist Francois Bayrou decided to endorse him and dropped plans for his own presidential bid.
The two other main candidates, Socialist Benoit Hamon and hard-left Jean-Luc Melenchon, who failed to reach an alliance deal on Sunday, have both been range-bound, with 13.5 percent and 11.5 percent of first-round votes respectively, not enough to qualify for the runoff.