French far-right leader Marine Le Pen had her political rivals on the run Tuesday after a poll showed she could beat any of the top likely candidates in a first-round presidential election.
The survey by pollster Harris Interactive published in Le Parisien newspaper showed Le Pen would win 24 percent of the first-round vote, ahead of the leading contenders from the main left- and right-wing rival parties.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the IMF chief who has polled as the strongest candidate for the opposition Socialists, would win 23 percent if he were in the race, with President Nicolas Sarkozy beaten into third place on 20 percent.
The poll said Le Pen would also come out top if the Socialists were represented by Francois Hollande, another of its main contenders, with Sarkozy in second place in that scenario.
Another Harris poll on Sunday showed the Socialists' other main potential candidate Martine Aubry would score level with Sarkozy behind Le Pen.
Le Pen took over the leadership of the far-right National Front in January from her father Jean-Marie, who made it into the second round of the presidential election in 2002.
The party has forced the UMP, Sarkozy's majority right-wing party, to compete with it directly with tough policies on immigration, crime and Islam.
But politicians and observers said the latest polls showed this strategy is not working.
"Let's not beat about the bush. This poll scares me," said Bernard Debre, a UMP lawmaker, on France Info radio, referring to the Harris survey.
"We in the UMP have to look at what we are doing on Islam, national identity and secularism, which is not being understood."
In 2002, Jean-Marie Le Pen was beaten in the second round as supporters of the defeated Socialist Lionel Jospin defaulted to the UMP candidate, Jacques Chirac.
Faced with a strong showing by the Front in 2012, the other parties will likely count on the same second-round effect.
"If Nicolas Sarkozy faces Marine Le Pen (in the second round) he will win the presidential election," political scientist Stephane Rozes told AFP.
"This sounds an alert," said Hollande on Europe 1 radio on Tuesday. "This poll does not show who would finish where in the presidential election but it indicates a rise of the far right."
The Socialists will hold a primary in October to name their candidate. The apparent front-runners -- party leader Aubry and Strauss-Kahn, head of the International Monetary Fund -- have yet to confirm that they will stand.
Sarkozy has yet to declare his candidacy officially but his UMP allies have said he is the preferred candidate.
"This poll with Marine Le Pen in the lead reflects Nicolas Sarkozy's inability in his presidential function and the inability of the Socialist Party to present a credible alternative," said Rozes.
"People prefer the original to the copy."