Emmanuel Macron addresses 600 mayors relaying the concerns of Normandy town and village residents in the January launch of the "great national debate", 2019.AP
French President Emmanuel Macron would beat far-right leader Marine Le Pen with a much smaller margin than in 2017 if the two fought a runoff in the next presidential election in May 2022, an opinion poll showed on Monday.
Macron and Le Pen would easily qualify for the runoff after picking up about 25% each in the first round scheduled for April 2022, far ahead of other rivals. Macron would go on to defeat Le Pen with 53% of the votes versus 47%, according to a Harris Interactive poll published by L'Opinion newspaper.
In the last presidential election, Macron defeated Le Pen with 66% of the vote, with most mainstream politicians from left and right urging voters to rally behind him to prevent the far right from gaining power.
The smaller margin 14 months before the election is a sign that Macron will struggle to attract left-leaning voters, after many were disappointed by his pro-business economic reforms and off-the-cuff remarks seen as condescending to the poor.
'Centre-left voters are disappointed, that's for sure,'one minister, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters. ' It's a concern for us and we need to think about how we talk to this part of the electorate.'
Macron, who ran as an independent in 2017 after resigning as minister in the previous Socialist government, promised that as president he would be "neither of the left nor the right".
Le Pen has sought to broaden her appeal beyond the far-right, rebranding the National Front party founded by her father as the National Rally, dropping plans to ditch the euro and return to the franc, and abandoning racist rhetoric.
Macron's allies say he is likely to campaign on a centre-right platform and law-and-order issues to counter Le Pen's attacks on immigration, terrorism and waves of sometimes violent protests that have unsettled conservatives voters