Far-right political pundit Eric Zemmour could reach a second-round runoff vote in France’s 2022 presidential election if he chooses to challenge incumbent leader Emmanuel Macron, according to a new opinion poll.
The Harris Interactive poll, published on Wednesday, is the first since Macron won the presidency in 2017 to upend widely held expectations he will face a repeat knockout contest against far-right leader Marine Le Pen next April.
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It showed Zemmour winning 17 percent of voter support, eclipsing Le Pen’s 15 percent, in a potential first round.
A highly divisive figure, the 63-year-old has repeatedly courted controversy with inflammatory remarks on subjects such as immigration, Islam and national identity – and been convicted multiple times for inciting hatred.
The poll, which saw 1,310 voters surveyed on October 4, put him ahead of any one of the three challengers vying for France’s centre-right ticket.
Those are Xavier Bertrand, a former minister who now leads the Hauts-de-France region in northern France, Valerie Pecresse, head of the Ile de France region, and former European Union Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.
“A candidate has never been known to experience such a change in voter intentions in so short a space of time as we’ve seen with Eric Zemmour,” Harris Interactive pollster Antoine Gautier told the AFP news agency.
Zemmour was predicted to win only 7 percent support when Harris Interactive tested his popularity with voters for the first time, on September 8.
He has not formally announced he will run for the presidency, but has indicated he will challenge Macron, describing himself as a “candidate in the debate” and quitting his prime-time chat-show spot to comply with electoral rules.
He has also published a book, France Has Not Yet Said Its Final Word, that draws parallels between himself and former US President Donald Trump.
Macron still ahead
Wednesday’s poll suggested Zemmour will face a battle to actually unseat Macron, should he choose to compete.
Macron would win 55 percent of the vote in a second-round contest against him, the poll said.
It also indicated Macron would narrowly beat Le Pen by a margin of 53-47 percent, were she to get through to a second round, as well as all of his other main challengers in any second-round scenario.
Le Pen lost to Macron in the 2017 ballot’s second round, with the latter sweeping more than 66 percent of the vote.
A runoff is required if no candidate wins an overall majority in the first round.
Analysts have stressed that next year’s election remains highly unpredictable and forecasting is rendered more difficult by France’s two-round system.