File Photo: Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche !, or Forward !, and candidate for the 2017 French presidential election, attends a political rally in Lille, France January 14, 2017 (Photo: Reuters)
Conservative presidential candidate Francois Fillon would not even make the second round of this spring's election in France, an opinion poll showed on Wednesday, cranking up the pressure on him as a scandal over his wife's work engulfed his campaign.
The poll by Elabe pointed to rising support for far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen, but it showed centrist Emmanuel Macron most likely to win the presidency - snatching the position of favourite that Fillon held until last week.
The poll by Elabe for Les Echos newspaper was conducted on Jan. 30 and 31, a few days after a newspaper report that said Fillon's wife was paid taxpayers' money for fake work. Fillon has said the work was genuine, but an inquiry has been opened and the couple have been interviewed by police.
Fillon, chosen in November by a party primary, has said he will stand down if he is put under formal investigation. He was due to meet members of his party on Wednesday as some of them consider a campaign without him. It was unclear how a new candidate could emerge with less than three months to go before the election.
At issue is an inquiry prompted by a report in the satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchaine and subsequent reports by the same paper that Penelope Fillon was paid 831,440 euros ($897,539)of public fund for work it alleged she did not do.
Elabe's poll offered two first-round voting scenarios; one in which another centrist, Francois Bayrou, stands for election, and another in which he does not.
Voting intentions for Macron were unchanged or up 1 point to 22-23 percent, depending on the scenario. Le Pen's first round score was up by 3 points to 26-27 percent.
Fillon's score fell by between 5 and 6 points to 19-20 percent.
Both the scenarios would eliminate Fillon from the May 7 second round, a contest between the two top scorers in the April 23 first round.
Elabe predicted Macron would beat Le Pen in the second round with 65 percent of the vote. Should Fillon make the second round, he too would beat Le Pen, but by a lower margin, at 59 percent, Elabe said.
The poll, published on Wednesday and covering among about 1,000 people, is the second one to be conducted since the scandal engulfed Fillon's campaign.
It confirms a slide in the vote for Fillon that was noted by a survey published on Sunday.
On Tuesday, French police searched Fillon's office in parliament and party leaders began to consider a "Plan B" without him.
The Fillon scandal has heightened investor uncertainty about the outcome of the presidential election, with players nervous about the possibility that the anti-euro, anti-EU Le Pen could win power and pursue a French exit from the bloc.
On Wednesday, the gap between French and Belgian government borrowing costs hit its widest since at least April 2008.
"The France spread to Belgium is the gauge we use for political risk, and that has widened further after an adviser to Le Pen fleshed out their Frexit plans," said ING strategist Martin van Vliet. "And with Fillon under the microscope as well, France is definitely underperforming."