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France's Dixville Notch

The hamlet of Dixville Notch (population: 9) is famous for being the first town to vote in New Hampshire's primary and predicting the eventual Republican nominee in every presidential election since 1968 (its record in the Democratic primary and general election is spottier). France, it turns out, has something similar.

In recent days, there have been several reports on the Burgundy village of Donzy (with 1,700 residents, a pulsing metropolis compared with Dixville Notch), where electoral results have served as an uncanny bellwhether for the whipsawing national vote in every presidential race since 1981. And with the first round of voting in this year's election set to begin later this month, things are not looking good for President Nicolas Sarkozy, who won Donzy in 2007 but is currently trailing François Hollande in national polls as the French economy sputters.

Here's the Economist's report from the town:

The message I picked up from almost everybody I spoke to suggested that Mr Hollande is heading for victory. Jean-Paul Jacob, the current (independent) centre-right mayor, told me straight out: "My bet is that Donzy will vote Hollande." Not, he said, out of any great enthusiasm for the Socialist: "People find him cold; there's no fervour about him." (Indeed, there was little evidence of any political activism at all: the only poster pasted to the official campaign boards was for Philippe Poutou, an anti-capitalist candidate. Local talk is more often about "fishing and fêtes", said a local in the bar.) Rather, it was because people are disappointed with Mr Sarkozy. "His personality," said the mayor, a local notary, wryly, "doesn't leave people indifferent."

But at a local bar (almost every report makes the obligatory stop at a watering hole), Reuters' Vicky Buffery files a slightly more encouraging dispatch for Sarkozy's camp:

Questions about the election draw Gallic shrugs. One man says he'll vote but hasn't decided which way. When pushed, he struggles to remember the name of Segolene Royal, the Socialist Party candidate for whom he voted in 2007.

There's a sense among Donzy's voters that the election result could go any way, despite polls pointing to a win for Hollande.

It is hard to find people who will admit to supporting Sarkozy but several say he will have their vote.

As for Dixville Notch, its predictive power appears to be intact. Mitt Romney, who's now cruising to the GOP nomination, won the town's vote. Well, actually, his two votes put him in a tie for first place with Jon Huntsman, who has long since departed the Republican race. But why let messy details like that get in the way of the mystique.

PHILIPPE MERLE/AFP/Getty Images

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