France's far-right party Front National (FN) leads the polls after the first round of voting in the country's regional elections on 6 December. The anti-immigration, anti-EU party won 27.96% of the vote, leading ahead of Nicolas Sarkozy's Republicans and allies (26.89%) and President François Hollande's ruling Socialists (23.33%).

FN polled ahead in at least six out of 13 regions in mainland France and with such strong support, it could go on to win a region for the first time in the party's history.

How important are the regional elections?

French regions control a number of key government functions, including public transport and the management of public high schools (aged from 15 and above). They are also charged with making regional economic plans and allocating development funds for NGOs, arts and culture initiatives.

In the region Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (South) for example, 26-year-old Marion Maréchal Le Pen, Marine Le Pen's niece, has promised to make big cuts to the French equivalent of planned parenthood and will not fund structures dedicated to contemporaneous art stating: "10 hipsters who pretend to be amazed in front of two red dots on a canvas because the speculative market has said that this artist has value is frankly not my conception of a cultural policy."

Marion Maréchal Le Pen
At only 26 years old, Marion Maréchal Le Pen - Marine Le Pen's niece - could win the regional elections in the PACA region Getty

The regional elections are also an important test of public opinion in the run-up to the French presidential election in 2017. Back in 2010, the Socialists took control of 21 out of 22 metropolitan regions after approval ratings plummeted for then president Nicolas Sarkozy. Two years later, the party's leader, Francois Hollande, went on to be elected president with 52% of the vote.

Winning a region would be a significant step in Marine Le Pen's campaign for the 2017 presidential election.

How is Front National ahead this year?

Both growing disillusionment with Hollande's government and internal divisions within the Republicans, mean FN is sweeping up a vast number of protest votes. But since 2011, Marine Le Pen has also attracted new voters to the party.

The regional elections are made up of two rounds. Any party can enter the first round but only the top three candidates can go on to the second.

After the first round of voting, FN now lead in six of the newly created 13 super regions: Nord-Pas de Calais-Picardie, Alsace-Champagne-Ardennes-Lorraine, Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, Languedoc-Rousillon Midi-Pyrénées and Centre-Val de Loire.

Regions of France
Front National lead the elections in six of the newly-created 13 super regions.

Can Front National win?

While it is very unlikely that FN will win the six regions, it stands a good chance in at least three of them: Alsace-Champagne-Ardennes-Lorraine; Bourgogne-Franche-Comté and Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur.

In some regions where FN is leading the polls (Nord-Pas de Calais-Picardie and Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur), the third-placed Socialist candidates have pulled out of the elections and asked the public to vote for the second-placed Republicans to prevent the far-right party from winning.

Therefore in Nord-Pas de Calais-Picardie, Marine Le Pen might lose to the Republican Xavier Bertrand by a whisker. But in Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, even with the socialists pulling out, this might not be enough to stop Marion Maréchal Le Pen from claiming victory.

In Alsace-Champagne-Ardennes-Lorraine, the Socialist candidate, Jean-Pierre Masseret, does not want to quit, despite his party's advise. And in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, the Republicans have said they will not pull out, which means FN could win there.

So can FN make history and win a region for the first time? We will find out on 13 December.

Estimations are based on a normal report of votes after the first round. They have been realised by Odoxa and Opinion Way and an infographic showing all the possible outcome of the second round can be seen on French media website Francetvinfo.