French voters believe President Emmanuel Macron was the big winner of the televised political debate with far-right challenger Marine Le Pen – but they also believe he came across as arrogant, according to a poll.
The survey, conducted by the firm Elabe for France’s B.F.M. television channel and L’Express magazine, indicated that 59 per cent of watchers viewed Mr Macron as the winner of the fiery confrontation with Ms Le Pen, who was seen as the winner by just 39 per cent.
The French leader, according to numerous polls, is expected to win Sunday’s vote with between 52 and 56 per cent of the vote. But Ms Le Pen, who won only a third of votes in a 2017 election matchup against Mr Macron, remains within striking distance, and a surprise victory for the challenger cannot be ruled out.
Among supporters of leftwing first-round presidential contender Jean-Luc Melenchon, 61 per cent saw Mr Macron as the winner of the debate as opposed to 36 per cent who regarded Ms Le Pen as the winner.
Mr Melenchon’s supporters, who made up more than a fifth of first-round voters, are seen as a crucial segment of the electorate that is up for grabs in the second round.
The debate stretched on for nearly three hours and covered flashpoints such as Islam, immigration, the economy and relations with Russia in the wake of its war against Ukraine.
Some 53 per cent of voters said they believed Mr Macron had the qualifications to be president as opposed to just 29 per cent for Ms Le Pen. More voters considered him more dynamic and sincere than his challengers, but half of voters in the poll regarded Mr Macron as arrogant, seen as being among his greatest weaknesses ahead of Sunday’s elections.
Viewers described his tone as jumpy, and he frequently interrupted Ms Le Pen, sometimes speaking over her and appearing annoyed at answers he dismissed as ill-informed.
But he was cool and businesslike during a crucial and devastating moment in the debate, when he accused Ms Le Pen of being “in the grip” of Russia for accepting millions of euros in loans from Kremlin-linked banks.
He was fiery and forced Ms Macron onto the defensive when he warned that she would turn France into a police state and ignite a “civil war” if she followed through on her plan to outlaw the Islamic headscarf in public spaces.
Ms Le Pen failed to deliver lasting blows against Mr Macron in his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, which had been criticized by many. She also failed to capitalize on a scandal over his administration’s expenditures on pricey foreign consultancy firms.
But analysts and close observers say that Ms Le Pen, despite weaknesses and a lack of command on the specifics of some public policy matters, came off as far more polished than in her 2017 debate with Mr Macron.
In that sense, the far-candidate managed to further clean her image – one tarnished by association with her vehemently anti-Semitic father, Jean-Marie Le Pen. He founded France’s modern far-right movement in the late 1970s, before being outmaneuvered and ousted from power by her daughter de ella.
“Does [the debate] change anything for Sunday’s vote? Not much, no major shift expected after this,” wrote Célia Belin, of the Brookings Institute think tank, in a tweet.
“Does it change anything at all? It completes the transformation of Le Pen and her party from ella into a normal party, a 15-year project. ”