Mlenchon supporters in Marseille on 9 April. Photo: Claude Paris/ AP
Helped by his caustic rhetoric, strong performances in televised debates and a slick campaign that includes addressing rallies by hologram and Fiscal Combat a hit-the-rich video game his personal approval rating has leapt 22 phases in a month to 68 phases, inducing him Frances most popular politician.
Hes devised political stand-up, said one former Socialist party friend, Julien Dray. Hes become a showman. Mlenchon himself told the Journal du Dimanche he had become a reassuring figure and was less of a hothead.
Mlenchons policies include reducing Frances working week from 35 to 32 hours, lowering the retirement age to 60, raising the minimum wage and social security benefits, and taxing earnings of more than 33,000 a month at 100%.
He also wants to withdraw from nuclear power, which produces about 75% of Frances energy wants, and radically reform the French constitution by abolishing the presidential regime of the Fifth Republic.
While his position on immigration is the opposite of Le Pens, Mlenchon is not so far removed from the Front National leader in foreign affairs, advocating a new role for France in the EU, withdrawal from Nato and warmer ties with Russia.
It is his plans to boost public spending by 173 bn over five years and pull France out of EU treaties if Brussels does not agree to fundamental reforms that have most rattled conservatives and investors.
Melenchon: the crazy its own programme of the French Chavez, read the front-page headline in the conservative Le Figaro daily on Wednesday, comparing the Communist-backed candidate to the late Venezuelan leader.
Pierre Gattaz, the leader of Frances main business group Medef, said this week a second round pitting Mlenchon against Le Pen would be a catastrophe for France, forcing voters to choose between economic calamity and economic chaos.
Recent polls modelling hypothetical second round run-offs predict that Macron a former economy pastor and investment banker who has never held elected office but says he wants to transcend the traditional left-right divide and govern fairly and efficiently would beat Le Pen, Fillon and Mlenchon.
Fillon, a former conservative prime minister battling accusations he paid his wife hundreds of thousands of euros of public money for minimal run as a parliamentary deputy, would beat Le Pen, but lose to either of the other two, while Mlenchon would beat Le Pen and Fillon but lose to Macron.