A newspaper survey indicates that Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s extreme right wing National Front (FN), might be able to win the first round of the presidential election next year.

The online poll placed Marine, who succeeded her father Jean-Marie as FN chief in January, in first place with 23 percent of the vote, putting her ahead of all other likely candidates.

President Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist leader Martine Aubry received 21 percent.

However, some have questioned whether or not the survey is accurate – polls taken on the internet are typically unreliable. Moreover, Aubry has not even officially been named as the Socialist candidate yet.

Marine may also follow in the footsteps of her father

Jean-Marie, who shocked France during the 2002 election by finishing second in the first round (before he was trounced in the second round by Jacques Chirac.) However, Jean Marie never achieved the kind of poll numbers his daughter is generating now.

The left-wing newspaper Liberation commented politicians are hesitating between prudence and panic after the poll.

The poll numbers present a red flag of sorts for Sarkozy – who has already adopted some of the elements of FN’s ideology in his campaign, including their strident talk on “national identity” and stricter controls on immigration.

Indeed, if Marine is as popular as the survey suggests, it also means that the FN now has wider appeal from the mainstream public -- something that would have been unthinkable during her father’s reign as party boss.

In addition, the ongoing unrest in North Africa may also be playing into Marine’s hands. Many European leaders have warned that political turmoil and the threat of civil wars in the Maghreb countries will lead to a massive influx of illegal migrants into Europe.

The FN, which has long campaigned against further immigration from North Africa, can easily exploit these fears to gain more support.