France is taking to the polls today in the first round of its 2012 presidential election. Incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy is facing a strong challenge from socialist candidate François Hollande, who is presently considered to be the favorite to succeed him as the leader of the nation. That common expectation is backed up by today's Twitter discussions of the election, where Hollande holds a slim lead over Sarkozy in terms of raw tweet count. Of course, a tweet need not be in support of a candidate to include the hashtag for his campaign, but it's fascinating to see how the popularity of each candidate is reflected in our social media conversations.

A dedicated website has been set up to provide real-time tracking of the volume of election-related tweets, and its counters were reset early on Sunday morning to coincide with the opening of the polling stations. The process of the first round of voting in France is such that the 10 standing candidates will be reduced to the two most popular, who then go on to a second vote, expected to be held on May 6th this year. The second ballot can be avoided only in the event that one contender collects more than 50 percent of the vote today, which pre-election polls and today's Twitter visualization suggest is highly unlikely.