In a surprising shift of views French far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen has managed to capture more of the female vote, who have in the past been hostile to the party when led by her father Jean-Marie, as her efforts to change its image bear fruit.
The proportion of women who voted for Le Pen in the first round of presidential elections held Sunday was roughly similar to the proportion of men who voted for her at close to 18%, pollster CSA said Tuesday. Similar polls that were carried out after previous presidential elections showed twice as many men supported her father, whose ideas on family values were more "reactionary", Agnes Balle, director of political surveys at CSA pollster, said.
"As a woman, Marine Le Pen generates more empathy amid her fellow women and she has during the campaign emphasized her role as a working mother of three and how she deals with it," Balle said.
Balle added that fewer French women generally vote for extreme candidates be they from the left or the right, though Le Pen has managed to buck the trend this time.
The National Front, which was created by her father in the 1970s, traditionally championed anti-immigration and law-and-order themes, as well as euro-skepticism. During her campaign Marine Le Pen has added the economy, proposing a reversal of partial privatizations of large French companies, the advocacy of protectionism and exiting the common euro currency to her party's manifesto.
During the campaign she has attempted to dissociate herself and the party she now leads from neo-nazi and overtly racist groups and toned down the xenophobic rhetoric her father used in public appearances.
Le Pen's efforts have bore fruit and she is the third most-voted candidate in the elections' first round, behind the Socialist Party's Francois Hollande and incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy who respectively garnered 28.6% and 27.2% of the vote.
Both men will face each other during a runoff on May 6. Since Sunday both candidates have tried to woo Le Pen's voters.
In the previous presidential elections held in 2007, Jean-Marie Le Pen ended fourth with 10% of the vote, significantly less than five years earlier when he made it to the second round garnering 16.9% of the vote. In 2002, only 15% of women had voted for him, compared with 21% of men, while in 2007 only 7% of women had voted for the National Front, compared with 14% of men.
-By Inti Landauro, Dow Jones Newswires; +33 1 4017 1740; firstname.lastname@example.org