PARIS (Reuters) - Socialist party candidate Francois Hollande has extended his lead over incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in the race to become France’s next president, two polls released on Sunday said.
In the first round of a two-stage election to be held six months from now, Hollande would win 39 percent of votes, up eight percentage points from three weeks ago, while Sarkozy would have 24 percent, up three points, a poll by LH2 for Yahoo said.
Sixty percent of those polled would back Hollande in a run-off with Sarkozy, according to the survey. This was unchanged since May apart from a dip in September.
According to a separate poll by Viavoice for the Liberation newspaper, 45 percent of those interviewed wanted Hollande to be president, up 18 points from last March, while 27 percent supported Sarkozy, up 5 points.
Hollande has benefited from the interest generated by the competition to choose a presidential candidate for the Socialist party, which he won last Sunday, as well as his popularity among younger voters aged 18-34, LH2 said.
“In the wake of Francois Hollande’s success, the Left is becoming the leading political force,” LH2 said.
Despite lagging his Socialist rival, Sarkozy has seen his share of first-round votes increase in the last three weeks, helped by the success of the military operation in Libya to help overthrow Muammar Gaddafi and the birth of his first child with first lady Carla Bruni, the Italian-born former model, LH2 said.
Sarkozy also has benefited most from the decision by centrist rival and former Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo to abandon his presidential bid, the polling company said.
“In the last quarter of 2011, Nicolas Sarkozy will have to confirm or even prove his ability to govern France and maintain the country’s economic credibility on an international level,” LH2 said.
The Viavoice poll showed around three-quarters of participants judged that Sarkozy’s policies had not been effective regarding France’s debt and public deficit, employment and economic growth.
This followed the debt crisis and statements from ratings agencies on France’s debt rating.
Among those polled, 48 percent trusted Hollande to improve France’s financial situation if he were elected president, while only 33 percent trusted Sarkozy.
According to Viavoice, the birth of Sarkozy’s daughter had not had any impact on his popularity.
Sarkozy remains the natural candidate for the centre-right UMP party in the presidential elections, although he is not expected to announce he is standing for re-election until January or February, LH2 said.
But Viavoice said 26 percent of voters wanted Foreign Minister Alain Juppe to run as the UMP candidate, shading Sarkozy on 25 percent.
National Front President Marine Le Pen, who has been less prominent in the media recently, has seen her chances of reaching the second round of the election fade, LH2 said.
Her support has slipped one percentage point to 14 percent from three weeks ago, leaving her third, the pollster said. Viavoice showed her down to fourth place, with 13 percent.
LH2 said it interviewed 953 people aged 18 and over by telephone on Friday and Saturday. Viavoice said it surveyed 1,005 people by telephone between Thursday and Saturday.
Reporting by James Regan; Editing by Michael Roddy