Polls show Macron pulling ahead of Le Pen as French election campaign ends

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French President Emmanuel Macron and far-right challenger Marine Le Pen threw themselves into a final flurry of campaigning Friday, hoping to mobilise millions of floating voters before the weekend media blackout ahead of Sunday's runoff.

The latest opinion polls show Macron – the free-market centrist, pro-European incumbent – leading his anti-immigration, eurosceptic challenger by between 10 and 14 points.

This is well outside the margin of error, but the fact that nearly three in 10 voters say they will not vote or have not made up their minds means a surprise Le Pen win cannot be ruled out altogether.

Four separate surveys published on Thursday and Friday put turnout at between 72 percent and 74 percent – potentially the lowest for a presidential runoff since 1969.

On Friday, both candidates fired off attacks in interviews before last-minute walkabouts and rallies.

Le Pen insisted that opinion polls giving Macron the lead would be proved wrong.

"Polls aren't what decide an election," she said after posing for selfies in the northern Channel town of Etaples.

She again took aim at her rival's plan to push back the retirement age to 65 from 62, a reform the president was forced to put on ice after fierce protests two years ago.

"With Emmanuel Macron, the French are going to get a life sentence," she said.

Answers 'not viable'

Macron, meanwhile, said Le Pen was trying to mask an authoritarian "extreme right" platform that stigmatises Muslims with a plan to outlaw headscarves in public, and to "abandon the founding texts of our Europe ... that protect individuals, human rights and freedoms".

"Millions of our fellow citizens have moved towards her party and project because she gives the impression that she has an answer for the problem of purchasing power. But her answers aren't viable," he told France Inter radio on Friday.

Macron also acknowledged that his attempts at economic and social reform had left many French angry and dissatisfied.

Le Pen "has managed to draw on some of what we did not manage to do, on some of the things I did not manage to do to pacify some of the anger," Macron said, citing the concerns of low- and middle-income voters over law and order or loss of purchasing power.

He later headed for Figeac in southern France ahead of a final TV interview this evening, while Le Pen gave a final rally in the picturesque town of Abbeville.

Under French election rules all campaigning and opinion polling ends at midnight Friday through to 8:00pm on Sunday, when initial estimates of results start coming in.

Low-turnout wildcard

The biggest challenge facing both candidates is to capture floating voters who backed other candidates, in particular those on the left and the 7.7 million who voted for Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first round.

Mélenchon came in third with 22 percent and has refused to urge his millions of followers to back Macron, a former investment banker.

Analysts say abstention rates could reach 25 to 30 percent, in particular among left-wing voters unhappy with Macron's pro-business agenda including his tax cuts for businesses and top earners.

Spring school vacations will also be in full swing across much of the country this weekend, increasing the chances that many voters won't cast ballots – and adding a wildcard to the final outcome.

The live TV debate between the two rivals on Wednesday does not appear to have changed much in voters' minds, with most showing intentions to vote for Macron at 53 to 56 percent against 44 to 47 for Le Pen.

That would be a much closer result than in 2017 when Macron carried the day with 66 percent to 34 percent – an indication that Le Pen's efforts to soften and "de-demonise" her party's image may have paid off.

If he wins, Macron would be the first French president to be re-elected since Jacques Chirac in 2002. Should Le Pen win, she will be France's first far-right president and the country's first female head of state.

Read our 2022 presidential election coverage here

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