Political blackout so 3 Franglais freebies

A campaign blackout covers France today – no news of tomorrow’s elections in the media. I could write my friends info from here but that wouldn’t be kosher (catholique en français).  Plus, I hope CNN and the web are still functioning there.

To compensate for this lack of political news, I’m offering 3 new anglicisms to my students and other anglos for free if they don’t know the traditional French terms. First, two English cognates that were considered major errors until recently and, then, an English word stolen for lack of a perfectly good French term:

confus/e  used to mean embarrassed, overwhelmed, moved and now returns to its roots to include confused.  (con + fuse)

opportunité – native English speakers used to have to force ourselves to say occasion to translate the English opportunity but we’re now allowed to trust our langage instincts.

low-cost = à prix réduit. Or do you think low-cost connotes something a bit different in the following statement from a letter Le Monde sent its subscribers today, May 5, 2017?

“C’est la mission des 400 journalistes du Monde, en France et à l’étranger, d’être vos envoyés spéciaux, de donner la parole aux plus grands intellectuels, de raconter ce qui dérange, d’aller au-delà du bruit médiatique et de l’information low cost.”
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Will the French Vote for a Trump Equivalent? One week to the answer.

The tension is growing in pre-election France.  Stephen “Etienne” Roop, a political scientist, expert in polling, tries to enlighten us here.

Subject: One week out, is the French first round turning into a photo finish?

The French media are breathless this weekend over a new poll which seems to say of the impending April 23 first round presidential vote:  it’s now a foursome, and any combination of two can win.  I’d say we need to take a deep breath before buying in quite yet.
For months a familiar two-part scenario for April 23 has seemed fixed in the minds of observers and ordinary citizens.  First part:  the two leading candidates in the polls, newcomer Emmanuel Macron and outsider Marine Le Pen, would continue their leads and easily win the first round and face each other in the second round, which is limited to the top two vote-getters in the first round.  Second part:  Macron would demolish Le Pen in the second round.
But on Friday, April 14, Le Monde said there was developing “a situation unprecedented in the last 50 years….”  It based its claim on the newest poll from its highly respected pollster Ipsos, hot from the field April 12-13.  The poll results are very clear:  the April 23 race us suddenly a foursome.  Just three points separate the four top candidates.  As they have for months, Macron and Le Pen still lead, but now with only 22% each.  Hard right Républicain standard bearer Francois Fillon, long an also-ran candidate dogged by scandal but bouyed by incredibly loyal supporters, is an also-ran no more, at 19%. The big drama is the unexpected consolidation on the left.  Jean-Luc Mélenchon, head of his own party France Insoumise, has surged dramatically to 20% while the establishment socialist party’s candidate Benoît Hamon has collapsed.   The margin of error in the Le Monde poll is +2.7%.  That’s a startling amount of overlap, and thus uncertainty, among the four top candidates.  A clear implication of Le Monde‘s poll is that both the current poll leaders, Macron and Le Pen, could be excluded from the second round.  Since Le Pen has been the cynosure of the 2017 elections almost since the previous elections in 2012, her exclusion is certainly a stunning possibility.  Since Macron has been, for many (including perhaps many abstainers), the genial antidote to Le Pen, his exclusion may be no less stunning.  One or both of these exclusions would make for the final boulversement of this extraordinary presidential campaign.
How persuasive is Le Monde‘s Ipsos poll?  Le Monde‘s voice is disproportionately influential in France, its pollster is highly respected, and the Ipsos poll results are the talk of April 23 watchers everywhere.  But there are five other quite current polls.   All six agree that the socialist party candidate Hamon is foundering and far-left candidate Mélenchon is soaring.  But the April 23 messages of the other five are not uniform otherwise.  BVA’s poll, in the field April 12-14, also shows a three point margin separating the top four candidates.  Ifop-Fidicial, in the field April 11-14,  shows a four-point margin.  Does the one-day-more-recent field sample explain Ipsos’s tighter result?  Unlikely.  Odoxa, in the field exactly the same days as Le Monde‘s Ipsos poll, shows Macron and Le Pen close but a six point spread between the top four candidates.  The Harris and Elabe polls likewise show Macron or Le Pen close, but a five-point spread between the top four.  Harris was in the field April 11-13, Ifop-Fiducial April 11-14.  It’s hard, without torturing the data, to get a consistent pattern here–for example, that nearness to today of time in the field leads to tighter results.
Focusing on one poll, however tantalizing its import, is dangerous.  Better to look at the aggregate of these six current polls.  I take a simple arithmetic average of the results and do not adjust for each poll’s sample size; this average is for voters who express a preference.  The two leaders are clustered together:  Macron is at 23.08% support, with Le Pen just trailing at 22.41%.  The two followers are clearly behind, but close to one another:  Fillon is in third with 19.42%, and Mélenchon just trails him at fourth, with 19.25%. So the spectrum is a bit more than four points. (Compare the latest poll compilation result in Le Huffington Post:  Macron, 23%; Le Pen, 22.7%; Fillon, 19.5%; Mélenchon, 19.3%.   Almost identical both in terms of candidate support and spectrum!)  I did the same computation with each pollster’s previous poll, just to measure dynamics a bit.  The in-field dates are more skewed than ‘for the current six polls (thus álso making a comparison with prior composite results in Le Huffington Post impossible).  The results in the immediately prior polls are the same shape:  Macron barely ahead of Le Pen, 23.4% to 23.3%, and they lead the other two, who are themselves close, with Fillon at 18.92 and Mélenchon at 18.33.  The spectrum here is slightly over five points.  So the race is tightening slightly, based on the dynamics these six pairs of polls reveal: Macron and Le Pen are drifting downward (as they have been for several weeks–especially Le Pen); Fillon’is rebounding slightly; Mélenchon alone is really rising.   But I wouldn’t, yet, quite call it a foursome.
Entering the last week, each of the four candidates has strengths and weaknesses .  Le Pen’s voters are the most loyal, though some data I have seen recently suggests some desertions after the debates on March 20 and April 4, and, again, her numbers have been trending downward over the last several weeks:  two months ago today her Le Huffington composite was 26%, one month ago today it was 26.1%.  Fillon also has loyal voters, and he has managed to fight back extremely bad press over the no-show jobs he gave his wife, for which they are now both in deep trouble with the French legal system; nonetheless most non-supporters wish he had dropped out of the race when that system began putting the screws to him, and they are unlikely to reward his persistence on April 23.  So it is no surprise he has moved barely at all over time:  two months ago he was 19.6% in the Le Huffington composite, 18.8% thirty days ago, 19.5% currently.    Macron is the boy-wonder, young and appealing, and widely believed, by many people for a long time, to be the likeliest next president; nonetheless he’s a newcomer, and–perhaps as a necessary correlate of his rhetoric about transcending the left-right divide of French politics and taking good ideas wherever he finds them–his platform can be annoyingly vague, so subject to onslaughts from his more ideologically predictable rivals.  Late in March he (barely) overtook Le Pen to top the Le Huffington composite (24.9% v. Le Pen’s 24.8%) but Macron had already peaked and both have since then drifted down together in lockstep, Macron always just barely ahead of Le Pen.   Mélanchon has been around French politics for a long time and has a lot of baggage from his far-left past; nonetheless his oratory and his crowds of late have been impressive, and he has fairly vaulted upward in the last four weeks:  sixty days ago, he was 11.8% in the Le Huffington composite (with Hamon over 15%), thirty days ago just 12.1% (to Hamon’s 13.1%). Mélenchon has gotten to his current 19.3% in the Le Huffington composite in no small part because of his excellent performance in both televised debates, and very adroit followup; he seems to have neutralized most of the whiff of old party apparatchik that has long bedeviled him, though of course not everyone is persuaded.  (The folksy sweater doesn’t hurt!)
Plainly the question on every observer’s mind this week will be:  can Mélenchon’s rise continue until April 23?
Mélenchon’s favorability among likely voters is, no surprise, rising even faster than his poll support.  That rising favorability is probably the key to any further Mélenchon poll progress.  Support might continue to come from Hamon voters jumping ship.  Perhaps abstainers will no longer abstain.
Of course, Mélenchon’s further progress is not inevitable.  The other candidates are unlikely to sit quietly for the last week.  And while some voters may shift from another candidate or abstention to support Mélenchon, others may react to stop or slow his progress.
We’ll just have to hope the remaining polls of this coming week will give us some clues about where this suddenly much more interesting April 23 contest is going.
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Explaining the intricacies of France’s coming presidential election

Here is the latest on the French elections from our French politics expert, Stephen “Etienne” Roop.

Les présidentielles 2017                    posted: April 2, 2017

The first round of France’s two-round presidential election takes place on Sunday, April, 23, the second two weeks later, on Sunday, May 7.  Despite lots of news and even more speculation, there has been no real poll movement in weeks in terms of who’s ahead.  If current polls are accurate, three things seem clear:

  1. Newcomer Emmanuel Macron and veteran Marine Le Pen will take the top two places in the first round, and will face each other in the second.
  2. Macron and Le Pen will take a similar number of first round votes; it is presently impossible to project who will get more; together, they might carry, between them,  a small majority of votes; and
  3. Nonetheless Macron is projected decisively to win the second round.


The French system of electing a president under the Fifth Republic is a clear comment on the Fourth Republic.  The Fourth was notorious for frequent changes of government and consequent charges of instability (though, often, the same people went from one government to the next, just changing roles).  There were many parties and much of political life, at least cosmetically, was about patching together a succession of new governments.  The Fifth Republic is designed around a strong and quite independent president.  (Would one expect anything less of one of its key founders, Charles De Gaulle?)  And though many parties persist, the two-round system is designed to produce a president with majority support by limiting the second-round candidates to the top two vote-getters in the first round.  (If a candidate gets a majority of votes in the first round, there is no second round, but this has never happened.)  Of course, this is the majority support of those who vote.  Abstentions are a commonplace of French politics, as they are of most political systems with elections, democratic or not.

This has been an election of considerable turbulence in France.  Many fixtures of French politics for decades have fallen on the field of political battle; party loyalty has slipped considerably and several candidates are running as heads of fig-leaf parties they created for themselves.  And there are deep ideological divisions, at least apparently.

So where does France’s system for producing a president seem to be going, three weeks out from the first round of the presidential election?


Innovation is one element transforming French politics this year.  Primaries, a commonplace of American politics for decades, are happening in France for the first time.  In each of the three parties that has tried them, on the left, the center-left and the right, leaders with long experience, poll support and the nod of pundits have been swept aside, sometimes by virtual unknowns, other times by lesser knowns.

The first hint of this came last October on the extreme left, in the race to be the candidate of the green party, Ecologie Europe—Les Verts (EE-LV).  For press and pundits, the presumed favorite was Cécile Duflot, one of the EE-LV founders and a minister early in the Hollande years.  But ordinary party members had quite different ideas.  Duflot placed a distant third behind two others not widely known outside EE-LV circles, Yannick Yadot and Michèle Rivasi.  Yadot beat Rivasi in the EE-LV primary’s second round on November 7, 2016.

In the Républicain primaries which followed in November, 2016, two major French party lions were slain.  In the first round former president Nicolas Sarkozy was eliminated, probably ending his political career.  This left Francois Fillon, a prime minister under President Sarkozy, and Alain Juppé, a prime minister under President Jacques Chirac, for the second round.  Juppé had shown strongly in polls all summer, and though he was faltering badly in some polls as the first round approached; nonetheless he continued to score well among pundits.  But again, as with EE-LV members, the rank-and-file Républicains had other ideas.  Fillon, who had barely figured in national polls, placed first with 44% of the first round vote to Juppe’s surprisingly low 29%.  Sarkozy trailed even further behind, with not quite 21%.  The effects were immediate.  New polls after the first Républicain round showed Fillon performing already impressively against Marine Le Pen, the leader of the extreme right Front National whose possible presidency had become the political question overhanging all others in the 2017 race.  Fillon went on to trounce Juppé in the second Républicain round on November 27, taking 66% of the vote.

On December 2, 2016, days after Fillon’s second round Républicain primary victory, France’s sitting president, François Hollande, announced he would not, in the socialist primaries upcoming in January, 2017, run for another term as president.  Hollande had been plagued by unpopularity almost from the start of his five-year term, and before his withdrawal had been hemorrhaging public support for months.  In January, though, Hollande’s sitting prime minister Manuel Valls, became the latest lion to fall to party rank-and-file.  He was edged out in the first round by Benoit Hamon, a leftist insurgent not widely known nationally but plainly well enough known to his socialist peers.  Hamon went on to a decisive second-round victory on January 29,  taking 58+% of the vote to Valls’ 41+%.


If innovation has left slain political lions everywhere, indignation should not be underestimated this year as a French political force.  French polls show strong support for a candidate of the extreme right, the Front National (FN) headed by Marine Le Pen, and the extreme left, France Insoumise (FI–roughly, France Unbowed or, less passively, France Defiant), headed by Jean-Luc Mélenchon  Indignation may indeed have more adherents than innovation.  Of the three parties which had innovative primaries, one, EE-LV, no longer is in the presidential race, its candidate, Yannick Yadot, having withdrawn in late February to endorse the socialist standard-bearer Benoit Hamon.  The other two innovation parties, the socialists and the Républicains, in polls for March, 2017, can claim at best about 35% of those expressing a preference among the range of candidates.  Marine Le Pen has been steadily polling about 25% of those polled; at the start of March, Mélenchon’s was polling 10-11%, but has jumped to 14-16% since the March 20 debate among the five currently leading candidates in the first round.  This means the indignation bloc represents somewhere around 40% of the voters, though divided unevenly between extreme right and extreme left.


So where is the rest of the electorate?

Less than 10%  of voters support various third parties, of either the extreme left or, mainly, of the extreme right.

The remainder, around 25%,  are supporting a virtually new face in French politics, Emmanuel Macron, creator of En Marche! (Forward!), one of the fig-leaf parties mentioned above.  At least starting out, many saw Macron as a highly improbable candidate, since he lacked either an institutional base, long connection to French high politics, or poll support.  Macron says he wants to transcend the customary left-right divide of French politics, and it is indeed a divide of historic proportions.  His own career might be seen as an example of this transcendence.  He has a quite traditional education for a French aspirant to high office, including training at France’s elite Ecole Nationale d’Administration and a position in France’s Inspectorat des Finances..  He then became an investment banker, in an entity belonging to the Rothschild Group, no less.  He served two years, 2012-2014, as a junior economy minister in Hollande’s government.  (Macron’s Wikipedia profile suggests he was not then a socialist but already an independent while he served.)  But today, as much as transcendence, Macron is targeting the center of French politics—voters not interested in the extreme left represented by either Hamon or Mélenchon, or the extreme right as represented by Le Pen.

In this targeting Macron has benefitted from collapses both institutional and individual.

The institutional collapse, of course, is of the socialist party.  The rank-and-file cling to their elected standard-bearer though recent polls suggest Hamon’s candidacy is of late in serious trouble with voters.  Party members in the government, though, are seriously tilting towards Macron.  Hollande’s own prime minister is the latest to endorse, just a few days ago.  It is widely reported, though hotly disputed, that Hollande himself favors Macron, though Hollande has made most of the appropriate noises about sticking with his party’s elected candidate Hamon.

The individual collapse is of the Républicain candidate François Fillon.  Fillon, from the start, presented himself as a conservative Catholic and the French Mr. Clean, a substantial claim in any case in a political system many regard as simply corrupt when not just hopelessly self-absorbed. In late January, shortly before the second round of the socialist primary, Le Canard enchaîné, a French satirical weekly with a deadly aim, began a series of exposés which began with revealing several no-show jobs for Fillon’s wife Penelope—hence the name of the affaire ever since in the French newspapers, Penelopegate.  Further scandals have been regularly reported and widely discussed.  Most voters want Fillon to withdraw from the race.  He promised to do so if he were subjected to a step in a criminal investigation the French call a mise en examen, but the mise came and Fillon has not gone.  (Now Madame Fillon is in the dock too.)  Fillon slipped a bit in the polls after the first revelations but holds onto somewhere between 17 and 19% support.

For months, there has been very little movement in the polls.  One blip, advantaging Macron, was the withdrawal from the race of the perennial candidate François Bayrou on February 22.  Bayrou, too, had dreamed of capturing the French center but after three tries for the presidency his poll support was thinning out, particularly when, around January, Macron began to gain traction in the polls.  Another recent change has seen Jean-Luc Mélenchon beginning to outpace the socialist candidate Benoit Hamon.  There had been much speculation, when Hamon first became the socialist party candidate in late January, whether he and Mélenchon could form some kind of alliance-of-the-left, whose numbers, including all the fringe parties and perhaps new voters attracted by such an alliance, might well exceed Le Pen’s solid bloc and, possibly, win one of the two places in the second-round presidential election.  (In some schemes, Macron could possibly win the second place!)  But squabbling has been incessant, and now that Mélenchon is leading Hamon in the polls, there is (understandable) dispute over who the alliance’s unity candidate should be.  So the left is unlikely to be a institutional factor in the coming elections:  the socialists are in disarray if not terminal decline, and to their left there’s plenty of energy but it is expended in fighting.


And so, three weeks before the first round of its 2017 presidential elections, France is a deeply divided country—or at least so it seems on the surface.  The extreme right (Le Pen) holds about 25% of the vote, and the hard right (Fillon) almost 20%.  The extreme left (Mélanchon) holds about 15%, the hard left (Hamon) another 8-10%.  All the remainder of the spectrum holds 25-27% of voters (Macron?).  Or at least voters in the first round.

What remains for the first round but to wait it out?  Some debates remain, but the only obvious candidate initiative right now to pull a first-round upset seems to be something from Fillon.  There are only two possible Fillon targets, Le Pen and Macron.  Virtually all polling data show Le Pen has her vote locked up.  So Fillon’s only real choice for getting additional votes is Macron.  And sure enough, the sniping has started, according to several articles in the French press this weekend.  There are two themes from Fillon and Fillonistes.  They are criticizing what must be candidly admitted is the vagueness of much of what Macron has to say.  And on top of this is Macron’s inexperience.  It remains to be seen what this will get Fillon.  Macron has been criticized on both counts before, so far without obvious effect.  He has remained solid in the polls, sometimes just ahead of Le Pen, sometimes just behind.  Fillon is damaged goods.  He has held on, remarkably, to his core, but most other voters have, for some time, felt he should bow out of the race.

The only other possible initiatives are “from below,” i.e. from the voters.  The obvious initiative here is on the left, with ordinary voters deciding to take matters into their own hands and settling on one candidate of the left.  But which side budges?  And perhaps we will see other tactical voting in this first round, though the French seem quite content to vote their hearts in the first round.  The obvious specter, for most voters, is Le Pen becoming president.  But since virtually all polls show Le Pen losing against any opponent in the second round, what’s the motive for tactical voting?  And what’s the assurance it will work?


It is unimaginable, with the divisions the polls reveal among voters, that any candidate can win a majority in the first round.  Unless Fillon’s move against Macron succeeds, it appears today, three weeks from the first round voting, that Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron will make it to the second round.

In current polls, Le Pen and Macron together represent just a bare majority at most of French voters willing to identify a candidate to pollsters.  Since only two candidates make it to the second round, where do all the other candidates’ voters go?  These voters are of two kinds—those that voted in the first round (again, potentially a majority of those who voted in the first round) and those who were eligible to vote but did not.

If Fillon does not make the second round, the quick assumption of many has been Le Pen inherits his voters.  This is too quick, I would say:  older conservative Catholics, a Fillon mainstay, do not necessarily like Le Pen; small-government types may find her social welfare views too expansive; economic “liberals” will not like her dirigisme.  This does not mean some Fillon voters won’t go for Le Pen, but many might stay home.  A few might even go for Macron.  Even with all Fillon’s votes, and assuming for the moment no new voters, Le Pen’s maximum take on the right, assuming she holds all her first-round voters, will be about 45%.  It could well be less.

It’s assumed that Macron will get virtually all the voters to his left, on the argument they will be fleeing Le Pen at all costs.  I think this argument is also too quick, especially as one goes farther left.  If Macron is the “other” candidate, farther-left voters will have a very difficult cognitive conflict to manage.  After all, Macron was a banker, and made a pile of money.  He is pro-trade and pro-EU.  He has made no secret he thinks the French economy needs an overhaul.  Where does this leave farther left voters, many of whom despise rich people and wealth in general, and who are increasingly protectionist/nationalist?  In many ways, Le Pen’s message reverberates for them—particularly her social welfare views.  (Not a few commentators have said Le Pen, shrewdly, is culturally to the right, distributionally to the left.)  Leftists may not like Le Pen’s anti-immigrant stance, but they are probably receptive to preserving auto jobs, to fostering family farms over agribusinesses, etc.  Macron, for many leftists, may be too anglo-saxon.  How do people manage cognitive conflicts?  Generally, they try to avoid them.  What’s the political equivalent of avoidance?  Abstention.  So it will be interesting to watch polling data in the last three weeks that discusses possible abstention, particularly such data focused on specific candidates or various clusters of voters.  That data may be an early warning signal about who might abstain in the first round.


And what of eligible voters who chose not to vote in the first round?  In the 2002 presidential election, Marine Le Pen’s father Jean Le Pen ran against Jacques Chirac.  Each, in the first round, had limped over the finish line with under 20% of the vote.  Votes tallied increased by 9% in the second round, and Le Pen increased his vote by 15% over his first round, but Chirac crushed Le Pen, 82+% to 17+%.  Even though it was a race where many voters thought France’s destiny was in play, more than 28% of registered voters abstained in the first round, and more than 20% in the second round.

Recent polls for the 2017 contest suggest many more voters are planning to abstain.  What will be the voters’ reaction to this Le Pen?  Her father was irascible, venomous and, even then—many argued—blatantly anti-Semitic.  Since then, Marine Le Pen has spent a lot of time burnishing the Front National—including kicking her father out.  It’s a measure of how far she has come that, in the March 20 television debate among the five leading candidates, many, sometimes reluctantly, conceded she performed well enough, that she did not have horns, that she could smile and laugh without the bitterness or scorn her father so often showed his opponents.

This is not a prediction that Le Pen will win the first round, much less the first.  The polls, presently, do not show this.  But we know from other races that polls do not tell all, because subjects do not tell pollsters all.  Le Pen is far from politically correct.  She thrives on this, of course, but her followers are not fools.  They have likely mastered lying low around people they do not trust.  And near the top of the Front National’s distrust list is the press.

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Update from Etienne on French elections

Francois Fillon, the candidate of the center-right Républicains, got some good news today, and some bad news. The bad news was an investigation underway by the French government into possible wrongdoing has now been extended by its assignment to three magistrates who may eventually decide to proceed with formal charges. Part of the good news, though, is that these magistrates may also decide to dismiss the charges altogether, a result the Fillons’ lawyers have been arguing for vigorously from the start. Perhaps the best news for Fillon, though, is that the statement announcing the news concedes nothing much is likely to happen before the presidential elections this spring. Fillon initially said he would withdraw from the race if there were formal charges, though he has backed away from this of late. Were he elected president, he would be immune during his term of office, assuming he was not removed.

So it now hangs in the political balance for Fillon. Many polls show large majorities of likely voters in April want Fillon to withdraw, but that does not include his likely supporters, currently numbering 20-21% in tracking polls. It is not clear who would succeed Fillon as the candidate of the Républicains were he to withdraw. Everyone will be watching the polls carefully for the next few weeks to see if his support, which dropped substantially but has recently stabilized, will start tanking again.

Some say it would be far-right Front National candidate Marine Le Pen, who has had a narrow lead over the large field of candidates voters will choose among in April. Others say it might well be Emmanuel Macron, a new face this year. So recent developments for Macron independent of how l’affaire Fillon will play out are themselves of interest.

Last Wednesday, the field for the late April first round elections was finally clarified when Francois Bayrou, a centrist also-ran three times before, decided to propose an alliance with Macron, a media darling and very clever young politician aiming to seize the center in French politics though until recently he was a socialist and held a ministry in Francois Hollande’s government. Macron accepted Bayrou’s proposal almost at once, suggesting it was a done deal when Bayrou proposed it Wednesday. It is not clear what Macron gets out of this deal electorally: Bayrou’s support comes from various parts of the French political spectrum except the extreme left and the extreme right. But plainly it is better to have Macron as a confirmed ally than as a lurking foe. Macron understands perfectly well (as does Bayrou) the value of sustaining his apparent political dynamism, in the polls and in terms of media coverage. The first polls out since Bayrou’s withdrawal show Macron mildly up.

So the prospect of Fillon’s collapse must be intriguing to the new Macron-Bayrou alliance.

On the left, too, there is talk about alliance, but it’s, so far, a lot more bluster than talk. The socialists being led by Hollande have pretty much collapsed: Hollande decided he could not win again; his surrogate–Prime Minister Manuel Valls–lost badly in the socialist primary to left-leaning candidate Benoit Hamon, not widely known publicly though plainly well enough known to party activists. Hamon has just concluded an alliance with a small left green faction. Hamon alone has 13-14% of the vote according to recent tracking polls. The alliance with the green faction yields another 2% at most. The big additional votes on the left–11-13%, according to recent polls–are locked up by a farther left group, France Insoumise (“France Unbowed”) headed by Jean-Luc Melenchon. Do the math and it’s clear that if the squabbling could be overcome, a large bloc of voters could be assembled, assuming no desertions. It’s a bloc potentially bigger than Le Pen’s bloc, which currently around 26% in tracking polls. Even if Melenchon himself can’t find harmony with Hamon, might his voters just desert him? It’s a long shot, but the sudden prospect of the left winning the presidency, after Hollande’s collapse suggested only the political wilderness for the left just a few months ago, might be very tonic.

It’s a year of great flux in French politics. Old party structures are teetering and the political battlefield is littered with the corpses of old political lions. Personality is king, and even some of the candidates running in April have only fig-leaf parties, recently created personal vehicles, for their institutional base. This includes Macron, Melenchon and, to a slightly lesser degree because her Front National has been around longer, Le Pen. All told, more than half of French voters support one of these “personalities.” The other two leading candidates, Fillon and Hamon, were dragonslayers within their parties. Fillon knocked off party fixtures Alain Juppé and former President Nicolas Sarkozy to be the candidate of the Républicains. Benoit Hamon knocked off the sitting Prime Minister to become the socialist candidate. Except to Le Pen, voter loyalty to candidates is middling at best; many polled say they could change their minds. Of course, Le Pen shapes much calculation among the remaining candidates. She has gained slightly in recent polls for the second round, where until recently it was universally expected she would defeat any opponent. (Only the top two candidates in the late-April first round face off for the second presidential round in early May.)

If Fillon is seriously wounded or collapses and if much of his vote goes to Macron-Bayrou–two big ifs–it is not unimaginable that Le Pen could be edged out of the second round altogether. Her support is firm but also seems to have a ceiling; polls show she has not gained or lost much support for several months now; she oscillates within a very narrow band. Might voters be more strategic in the first round this year, even though historically they seemed to vote their hearts? Le Pen is a looming presence, and for most voters an anxiety-provoking one; the specter of Donald Trump has not yielded her much in the polls–nor, concededly, cost her much either, at least yet. Might voters–other than Le Pen’s, of course–see the longer-term value for the whole political system to have a final presidential faceoff between a center/center-right formation and a left/center-left formation? I could never have imagined such a thing a year ago, given Le Pen’s steady support on the right and the damaged left from the slow-motion collapse of the socialists to the squabbling and atomization farther to the left. But this has been an extraordinary year in French politics, and with familiar institutions in disrepute and familiar faces falling by the wayside, voter mobility may be a wild card. I’m certainly not predicting, at this point, that Le Pen can be edged out–far from it. But the math is there: voters are divided into four large blocs of the polling data is to be believed: the far right (Le Pen) holds about 26%, the center (Macron-Bayrou) 22-24%, the left–if it could get organized!–about 26%. Fillon, center-right, holds 20-21%. That’s between 94% and 97% of voters currently expressing a preference; the rest goes to small parties right and left. If Fillon is substantially further damaged as the first round nears, who gets his stash? Or do lots of Fillonistes just stay home? Very narrow margins may determine who gets into the second round.

There’s a kind of shadow voter presence behind all the above. Currently predicted abstentions in the first round are substantial–35+ per cent in most polls that display that statistic. How many of these voters, seeing the polls narrowing and the excitement around new faces mounting, might yet be mobilized to vote as the first round in April nears, and for whom would they vote? We have no real idea right now but you can be sure expert observers and political organizers alike will be thinking a lot in the coming weeks about this further wild card turning on voter mobility. What rough beast, it’s hour come ’round at last, might be slouching towards Paris to be born?

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French Elections – a Cheat Sheet

French elections differ from American ones. Our politologue, Stephen “Etienne” Roop, is trying to help the rest of us figure out the French elections.


The last shoe in the candidate melodrama for the French presidency dropped just minutes ago:  Francois Bayrou, three times previously a candidate for president of France, has decided not to run a fourth time.  So now the personnel are set for the first round of the presidential election in late April.

But Bayrou did not go away quietly.  He proposed some kind of alliance with his rival for centrist voters Emmanuel Macron.  What the terms of this alliance might be Bayriou did not specify, nor, curiously, did anyone at the press conference ask about.  (I listened live.)  But it was not like being Macron’s vice president.  Bayrou was, he said, skeptical of tickets, and that “… there is only one president of the republic.”

Will Macron be interested?  He is faltering a bit in the polls lately, but not badly, and, generally, the overall race is tightening up again, after a few disastrous weeks for another of the (many!) candidates, Francois Fillon, involved in what is, even for France, a rather startling tale of no-show or little-heavy-lifting jobs for family members.  (The whole sordid affair has come to be named, after Fillon’s wife of no-show job fame, “Penelopegate.”) Nonetheless Macron is far ahead of Bayrou in the polls and it is not clear what Bayrou brings to Macron electorally–Bayrou’s support comes from many pockets of the French political spectrum except the extreme right or left, and these add up to the meager showing of about 5% in recent polls.

This is not the only alliance in question.  On the left it is a burning question.  The recent and unexpected winner of the socialist party primary, Benoit Hamon, has had some pretty fiery exchanges recently with a rival, Jean-Luc Melenchon, who has created his own party as a vehicle for a presidential run.  Hamon has more support in the polls but unlike Bayrou’s, Mélenchon’s support is not negligible, is steady, and comes from a distinct spot in the French political spectrum, the far left.  Hamon is to the left within the socialist party.  Together an Hamon-Mélanchon alliance would command–assuming no desertions–30-32% support among French voters, more than the pretty solid 26-27% currently supporting Marine Le Pen.  With 30-32% behind leftist-alliance candidate X, X would almost certainly get into the second round of the French presidential election, probably with Le Pen, and likely beat her.  (Virtually all polls until recently have shown Le Pen would lose badly in the second round against any candidate but her numbers, in a few recent polls, have been rising for the second round.)

Even if Hamon and Mélenchon cannot make nice-nice, might their voters?  The old party monoliths are crumbling fast in France, and this year has the carcasses of many old party lions on the field of political battle. Leftist voters might see the opportunity to capture the presidency as a pretty appealing prize.  

And in this year of great divisions, just a few points of support can be decisive.  Only the top two candidates get into the second presidential round, and its winner becomes president.  Before all those dead lions accumulated, I might have said, “Impossible!”  Now I’m not so sure.

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Fête de Noël à Boston 2016

Version 2

Voilà notre Fête annuelle de Noël à Back Bay, Boston. Learning French Christmas carols is the icing on the cake of our regular lessons. We sound particularly good because we are enthusiastic, understand all our words, and have 3 trained singers with us. JOYEUX NOËL !


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Liberty and my French friends grieve for us !


My French friends seem almost as upset as we are at the idea that Trump could – will! – be the President of the United States. That somehow calms me, knowing we have their support. Here are some of them:


Stupefaction from Michèle:

A 5 heures du matin (heure de Paris) stupéfaction : Trump était annoncé gagnant. Incroyable! Atterrrant! Ici c’est ressenti très violemment: dans le monde actuel, instable et dangereux, ce n’est pas rassurant de voir ce personnage à la tête du pays le plus puissant. Et sa victoire pourrait bien être annonciatrice de ce qui pourrait nous attendre l’an prochain : l’élection de Marine le Pen. …  A 5 heures j’ai decidé de m’endormir et viens juste de me réveiller .Malheureusement, rien n’a changé. Michèle

Several hours later, Michèle becomes disgusted but then determined that we should organize a “November 9 Movement”:

Je suis dégoûtée par la vulgarité et presque obscénité de Trump et catastrophée, bien sûr, car ce résultat est négatif au plan international  comme au plan économique, et au plan de la politique intérieure (immigration, avortement, port d’armes etc ect..). Catastrophée aussi en pensant à  l’écho chez les politiciens français en vue des élections de l’an prochain, dont j’ai très peur.

Mais il faut calmer le jeu et réagir.  D’une part tout ne sera sans doute pas réalisé parmi les folies dites par Trump, peut-être se calmera-t-il un peu? D’autre part il peut y avoir des réactions positives à cette défaite: si pendant les 4 ans de Trump les autres s’organisent (rénovation du partie démocrate, peut-être création d’autre chose, mouvements sociaux progressistes…)..C’est très difficile, bien sûr. Mais le parti démocrate semble de toute façon avoir besoin d’une rénovation, d’une meilleure assise populaire, de leaders différents (même si je respecte la combativité de Hillary).  La prise de conscience était peut-être inévitable. Peut-être aussi que Trump va vite montrer ses limites et que cela favorisera la riposte.  Vous allez crééer un puissant “Mouvement du 9 novembre”. Au travail tout de suite!

Courage et Amitiés transfrontalières…

Muriel tries to reason with the disappointment and thinks we Americans are just not ready for a woman president. (Susan thinks that seems to be true of a majority of white, uneducated American males!) :

Bon, ce n’est pas la fin du monde et la campagne électorale fut médiocre mais quand même ! Quelle déception ! On pouvait avoir une femme à la tête des USA ! Les Américains ne sont pas prêts …
Bises et courage

Ghislaine is angry, stunned, and sad:

[…] ce matin je pleure sur l’Amérique, enveloppée d’une colère et d’une
incompréhension totales. Trop tôt encore pour coucher les mots justes
sur cette nouvelle qui nous glace.  Je t’embrasse

And Marie-France dreads the reaction of France’s extreme right wing:

C’est sûr c’est lui. … Et ici en France les extrêmes FN etc se réjouissent! !!! Quel monde…





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Chapeau! = Bravo, Mark!


Michel says:

On a besoin de chapeaux chics.

Susan réagit:

Michel demande des chapeaux chics. Alors, Mark voyage à Paris pour nous les acheter. Et nous voilà !   Chapeau !

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Practicing our French at a Back Bay French restaurant

A lively, delicious class at La Voile where we ordered in French, used our French cuisine vocabulary, chatted with our French waiter in French, and were offered un verre de champagne après le dessert. Alexis nous a même appris un nouveau mot: ‘déchiré’ pour signifier wasted. How useful was the expression Passez-moi le pain, s’il vous plaît!

4-person French class at La Voile, Boston

Happy French students sitting around a table

Another picture of important people sitting around a table

Another picture of important people sitting around a table

Rembrandt must have been thinking of groups like us.


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July 14 terror in Nice, France

This post has 3 items, all relating to the horrific attack on Nice, France, yesterday.
1) your basic French vocabulary about terrorism
2) graphic showing love for France
3) my response to the horror of yesterday’s attack
Basic French vocabulary about terrorism:
la fête de la liberté – freedom celebration (July 14)
la fête du quatorze juillet – Bastille Day
le cauchemar > la nuit cauchemardesque – nightmare > a horrific night
l’attaque (f) 0
un camion – truck
écraser  > tuer 
Le/s coup/s de feu est/sont tiré/s – The shot/s was/were fired
la trajectoire délibérée – the deliberate path
le meurtrier abattu – the killer shot
le chauffeur – the driver (different from English)
la mort > le mort, la morte, les morts – death, the dead man, the dead woman, the dead (pl)
la Promenade des Anglais – the most touristic site of Nice, along the ocean, site of killing.
J’ai eu peur. – I was afraid.
Je suis hébété/e, Je suis sidéré/e  – I am dazed/ flabbergasted
Tout le monde crie, pleure – Everyone is screaming [not crying], crying. (crier / pleurer) 
Les gens tombent – People are falling.
Le drapeau est en berne – The flag is at half-mast.
le bilan: 84 morts – bottom line: 84 dead people
Des victimes sont de toutes les origines et de tous les âges – The victims are of all origins and all ages



I was wearing a French Revolution Bicentennial t-shirt all day when I heard and watched the horrific news. It made me really want to go shout our support out for France, who, coming to the end of a 3-month State of Emergency, just had to prolong it for 3 more months. The French Library/Alliance française of Boston held its annual Bastille Day party here right here on our block – with vigor, loud music, lots of children and more police protection than it’s ever had before.
Posted in Boston French classes, Cultural Perspectives, French culture, French versus English, French-American politics, French-American relations, Language Tips, News from France | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment