President Nicolas Sarkozy, considered conservative by French standards, was running about a percentage point behind his socialist opponent, Francois Hollande, with 50 percent of ballots counted.
Hollande had 27.6 percent of the votes and Sarkozy 26.6 percent in figures released by the Interior Ministry after final polls closed on April 22, according to a CBS report.
Hollande's polling, "is very good. That's a very good score in the first round, especially if you are not an incumbent," said Socialist lawmaker and Hollande supporter Aurelie Filippetti, in the CBS report.
For their part, Sarkozy’s camp hopes their candidate will pick up the Lion’s Share of Le Pen’s support in a runoff election with Hollande.
The top two candidates will proceed to a runoff election on May 6.
Candidate Marine Le Pen, daughter of National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, garnered 19.7 percent of the vote so far, better than most analysts predicted. Le Pen campaigned in opposition to unbridled immigration that has surged in France in recent years.
Aggressive stimulus and investment measures implemented by the country’s traditionally top-heavy government in response to the global economic crisis have fanned the flames of discontent regarding France's public finances. The government is privatizing large chunks of the economy in a transition from past socialist policies that left government mired in debt. Fiery riots jolted France recently when people took to the streets in protest of government downsizing and high unemployment.
Deficit spending by the French government rose sharply from 3.4% of GDP in 2008 to 6.9% of GDP in 2010, while France's public debt rose from 68% of GDP to 82% over the same period.
Unemployment in France is currently 9.8 percent compared to 9.5 percent in July of last year, according to a report by Trading Economics.
Voters are torn between a Hollande socialist agenda that will likely push the country deeper into debt and a more conservative approach that sees privatization and shrinking government as necessary to curbing government’s addition to deficit spending.
Far Leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon placed fourth with 10.6 percent, followed by centrist Francois Bayrou with 9.2 percent. Five others bottomed out the poll.