PARIS Conservative candidate Francois Fillon's lead in France's presidential election race has narrowed according to an opinion poll showing independent Emmanuel Macron gaining on both the former prime minister and far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
In a series of scenarios, Fillon was seen winning up to 28 percent of the first-round vote - down by between 7 and 8 points since the Elabe polling institute's last poll, published just after he won the centre-right primary in November.
Le Pen was seen arriving second in April's first round and qualifying for the run-off alongside Fillon in all but one scenario, where Macron took the number-two spot.
Le Pen was seen securing between 22 percent and 24 percent in the first round, according to the poll published on Thursday by Elabe for business daily Les Echos.
That was down slightly from November.
Macron polled at between 16 percent and 24 percent, up on last month's poll, with variations depending on who gets picked by the Socialists in their primaries later this month, and on whether Francois Bayrou - a centrist like Macron - runs or not.
Macron was seen cementing his position as the election's "third man", distancing both leftist firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon and any other traditional Socialist candidate, the pollster said in a text accompanying the survey.
The scenario where he reached the second round was one where former industry minister Arnaud Montebourg was the winner of the Socialist nomination over favourite and ex-prime minister Manuel Valls, and where Bayrou did not run.
Elabe did not test scenarios for the second round, which will be held in May. Only the top two candidates of the first round qualify for the run-off. Other polls have shown Fillon winning over Le Pen in that run-off.
The poll was conducted among 995 people on January 3 and 4.
(Reporting by John Irish and Michel Rose; Editing by Andrew Callus; Editing by Ingrid Melander)