Emmanuel Macron moves ahead in the French election polls for the first time

Mark Stone, Europe Correspondent

It's only one poll and it'll probably be countered by another soon, but it's still a big moment for Emmanuel Macron and his grassroots team.

The Harris Interactive poll has, for the first time, put the independent centrist ahead, by a whisker, of Marine Le Pen in the first round of the French election.

The poll indicates that Mr Macron, who only launched his new political movement 'En Marche!' last year, would get 26% of the vote, one point ahead of Marine Le Pen at 25%.

All previous polls put the far-right Front National leader ahead in the first round.

:: Who is Emmanuel Macron?

:: Who is Marine Le Pen?

The are a number of reasons for the change in Mr Macron's fortune. Firstly, it's not at the expense of Ms Le Pen. She has consistently been polling at about a quarter of the vote in the first round.

No, Mr Macron's increase is at the expense of centre-right candidate Francois Fillon , still hanging on despite the scandal surrounding his wife, and Socialist candidate Beniot Hamon , who's suffering simply because his party is the incumbant and has, under President Francois Hollande, become less popular than it has ever been.

:: How do French elections work?

Over the past week or so, the reality has dawned on Socialists - their man will never win. The obvious alternative is Macron - once a socialist in Hollande's government.

For Macron's critics, it confirms their suspicions - Macron is simply a continuation of 'Hollande-ism'.

It's all but certain now that for the first time in the history of France's Fifth Republic, neither of the two main establishment parties will progress to the second round of the campaign; both Les Republicians (Fillon) and the Socialists (Hamon) will be knocked out in round one.

Delve deeper into the polls though and there are some interesting details.

According to the same research by Harris Interactive, Macron's voters are the least reliable.

Only 59% of those who said they would vote for Macron said they were absolutely sure of their vote - the other half said they could change their minds.

Compare that with 81% of Le Pen voters who were convinced beyond doubt that they would vote for Le Pen and 72% of Fillon voters who were sure of their decision.

:: President Le Pen - could it happen?

Macron cannot yet rely on his sympathisers support in a way that their other frontrunners can.

There's something else too: the turnout. A low turnout in the second round is a possibility. Voters on the left of the political spectrum are likely to be disillusioned by the choice of far right (Le Pen) and either centre-right (Fillon) or centrist (Macron). If the turnout is low, that will help the candidate with the most reliable voters - Marine Le Pen.

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