French Election Polls Ahead of First Debate Show Le Pen, Macron Extending Lead

Le pen, Macron, Fillon, Hamon, Melenchon
Combination picture shows five candidates for the French 2017 presidential election, François Fillon, the Republicans political party candidate, Benoit Hamon, French Socialist party candidate, Marine Le Pen, French National Front (FN) political party leader, Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche ! (or Onwards !), Jean-Luc Mélenchon, candidate of the French far-left Parti de Gauche, in Paris, France, March 17, 2017. Christian Hartmann/Reuters

Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron have pulled further in front in opinion polls for next month's French presidential election ahead of the first televised debate Monday. Macron, a centrist independent, and Le Pen, the far-right leader of the National Front, have extended their advantage over Republican François Fillon, whose campaign has been dogged by an investigation into alleged fraud.

Macron and Le Pen were tied with 26 percent of the vote, with Fillon falling back to 17 percent, in a poll conducted by Kantar Sofres released Sunday. There was a setback, too, for the candidate for the governing Socialist party, Benoît Hamon, who fell back to 12 percent, level with left-wing former Socialist party member Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Current President François Hollande announced in December that he will not seek a second term.

French voters will go to the polls for the first round of the election on April 23, with the top two candidates then going onto a second round run-off on May 7.

It would take a major swing in the final month of the campaign for the run-off not to be between Macron and Le Pen. And it would take a similar momentum switch for Macron not to ultimately emerge victorious. Polls have consistently shown Macron beating Le Pen in the second round with around two-thirds of the vote.

However, Monday's first debate is significant. The latest poll indicated that 30 percent of voters remained undecided. And the poll showed that those indicating that they would vote for Le Pen are far more steadfast in their commitment compared with those voicing a preference for Macron. While 75 percent of Le Pen supporters said they would not change their minds, only 51 percent of potential voters for Macron said the same.

Although Fillon has seen himself go from election favorite to longshot following an investigation into charges that he paid family members for jobs they didn't perform, Le Pen appears to have emerged unscathed from a similar "fake jobs" scandal.