Emmanuel Macron was more impressive than rival Marine Le Pen in last night’s final TV debate for French presidential debate, a viewers’ poll says.
The candidates traded insults for more than two hours, arguing over terrorism, the economy, and Europe.
The French broadcaster BFMTV found voters had a more favorable view of Emmanuel Macron than Marine Le Pen in most categories.
Emmanuel Macron was the “most convincing” of the pair in the opinion of 63% of viewers.
Marine Le Pen lambasted her rival for his finance and government background, accusing him of being “the candidate of savage globalization” and said his version of France “is a trading room, where it will be everyone fighting for themselves”.
In turn, Emmanuel Macron said Marine Le Pen had openly lied, proposed nothing, and exaggerated the concerns of the public.
“The high priestess of fear is sitting before me,” he said.
Both candidates were hoping to make an impression on the estimated 18% of undecided voters in the first election the country has ever held without a candidate from the two traditional mainstream parties.
The second round run-off between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen takes place on May 7.
The BFMTV poll found that Emmanuel Macron was deemed the “most convincing” during the TV debate for two-thirds of those who voted for both left-wing candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first round, and for 58% of those who voted for Republican François Fillon.
Emmanuel Macron also led among voters when they were asked about which candidate was most honest, most aligned with the voters’ values, and who had the best plans.
It was carried out among 1,314 people over the age of 18 who watched the debate.
Emmanuel Macron already enjoys a lead in the opinion polls, which predict he will pull in about 59% of votes.
However, Marine Le Pen hammered her rival on his record during the key debate.
On unemployment, which stands at around 10% nationally, Emmanuel Macron acknowledged that France had not tackled the problem – and Marine Le Pen asked why he had not handled it during his recent time as economy minister.
Marine Le Pen also accused Emmanuel Macron of complacency about the threat of radical Islamist terrorism.
“Security and terrorism are major issues that are completely missing from your program,” she said.
In response, Emmanuel Macron said the measures she proposed – “eradicating” Islamic fundamentalism by shutting down extremist mosques, and expelling preachers of hate – played into terrorists’ hands and the desire they have for a “a civil war”.
They also clashed on the future of the EU, where they have clearly opposed views.
Marine Le Pen has said she would call for an in-out referendum on EU membership, and in recent days declared the euro currency finished.
During the debate, the National Front leader said she would restore France’s national currency and give companies and banks an option on which currency to pay in – a proposal which Emmanuel Macron labeled “nonsense”.
“How can a big company pay in euros on one hand and pay its employees in another currency?” he asked.
Last night’s debate marked the last time the two candidates faced each other before May 7 vote.
Just two days of campaigning remain before reporting restrictions come into force late on May 5 – and remain in place until polls close on May 7.