The Gaullist mayor of Paris, Jacques Chirac, is the front-runner to succeed President Franois Mitterrand, but about one-third of the electorate remains undecided.
Mr Chirac scored 24.3 per cent in an average of seven polls, the Socialist Lionel Jospin had 20 per cent, and the rival Gaullist candidate, Prime Minister Edouard Balladur, 18 per cent.
Given the margin of error, Mr Jospin and Mr Balladur are neck-and-neck for second position, which brings with it a place in the two-man second round on 7 May to decide who goes to the Elyse Palace.
With publication of opinion polls banned by law in France in the week before elections, one poll, by the Ipsos organisation for the magazine Le Point last week revealed deep uncertainties felt by the electorate. It showed that although 65 per cent think Mr Chirac will be the next president of France, only 30 per cent actually want him to move into the Elyse next month. Just 16 per cent think Mr Balladur will win the presidency, but 31 per cent - one point more than Mr Chirac - said they wanted the Prime Minister to succeed Mr Mitterrand.
A public row about whether a Chirac victory would weaken the franc has shown the mayor of Paris in a less than convincing light, but reinforced Mr Balladur's claims to be a solid governmental manager who can be trusted to keep the country on a firm footing.
The average of the seven unpublished polls gives the National Front's Jean-Marie Le Pen 14.2 per cent.
The Ipsos poll was the only one to put Mr Balladur ahead of Mr Jospin by 19-18 per cent behind Mr Chirac's 23 per cent.
The poll gave the Communist Robert Hue 9 per cent, the Trotskyite Arlette Laguiller and the reactionary anti-Europe duke, Philippe de Villiers, 6 each, the Green's Dominique Voynet 5, and a candidate who wants a new world financial order, Jacques Cheminade, zero.
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