Scandal in France causes voter uncertainty nation wide

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scandal creates anti-establishment feelings in France
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scandal creates anti-establishment feelings in France
Stephane Dominois, 46, holds a blackboard with the word "logement" (housing), the most important election issue for him, as he poses for Reuters in Chartres, France February 1, 2017. He said: "Everybody has the right to live, but when it comes to housing, French people must have priority." REUTERS/Stephane Mahe
Patricia Breard, 53, a nurse, holds a blackboard with the words "avenir des jeunes" (future for young people), the most important election issue for her, as she poses for Reuters in Chartres, France February 1, 2017. She said: "Today I wouldn't want to have kids. I'd be too worried about their future." REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
Kevin Ndongala, 22, a student, holds a blackboard with the word "social", the most important election issue for him, as he poses for Reuters in Chartres, France February 1, 2017. He said: "I hear many candidates saying we have too many public sector workers in France, but that's not true. We need them all." REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
Marie-Laure Mathonnat, 54, a public sector worker, holds a blackboard with the word "ecologie" (ecology), the most important election issue for her, as she poses for Reuters in Chartres, France February 1, 2017. She said: "I have always voted, but this time, really, I don't think I'll go. I'm fed up with politics. I don't believe in it anymore." REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
Marie-Francoise Lagente, 77, retired, holds a blackboard with the word "integration", the most important election issue for her, as she poses for Reuters in Chartres, France February 1, 2017. She said: "There are some factors that mean you will always be a foreigner if you leave your country. I love to travel, but I don't believe we can accept everybody coming to our country." REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
Mehdi Belhabassi, 21, a shop assistant, holds a blackboard with the word "unite" (unity), the most important election issue for him, as he poses for Reuters in Chartres, France February 1, 2017. He said: "It's important for us to live together in peace and respect each other. No matter where we come from, we're all French and we're all equal." REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
Jean-Claude P, 68, retired, holds a blackboard with the word "paix" (peace), the most important election issue for him, as he poses for Reuters in Chartres, France February 1, 2017. He said: "I dream of a politician that would give us work and peace. Peace in the world, that's the most important thing." REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
Nathalie Harlingue, 41, a school teacher, holds a blackboard with the word "education", the most important election issue for her, as she poses for Reuters in Chartres, France February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
Francois Dore, 83, retired, holds a blackboard with the word "sante" (health), the most important election issue for him, as he poses for Reuters in Chartres, France February 1, 2017. He said: "I have a toothache, and I couldn't find a dentist." REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
Jean-Luc Pfister, 57, a social worker, holds a blackboard with the word "solidarite" (solidarity), the most important election issue for him, as he poses for Reuters in Chartres, France February 1, 2017. He said: "We need more of that. The gap between the superrich and the rest of us is far too wide." REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
Jean-Louis Lachevre, 66, holds a blackboard with the word "integrite" (integrity), the most important election issue for him, as he poses for Reuters in Chartres, France February 1, 2017. He said: "Our politicians are more or less the same. There aren't many with clean hands." REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
Malika Etchekopar-Etchart, 38, unemployed, holds a blackboard with the word "chomage" (unemployment), the most important election issue for her, as she poses for Reuters in Chartres, France February 1, 2017. She said: "It's more and more difficult to find a job. A few years back, it was a lot easier." REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
Julien Ambrosio, 27, a salesman, holds a blackboard with the word "confiance" (trust), the most important election issue for him, as he poses for Reuters in Chartres, France February 1, 2017. He said: "We must be able to trust our politicians, but that's more and more difficult with what's going on at the moment." REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
Maurice Beauzac, 86, retired, holds a blackboard with the word "integrite" (integrity), the most important election issue for him, as he poses for Reuters in Chartres, France February 1, 2017. He said: "When a politician tells you he's honest, you'd like to believe him, but you can't judge a book by its cover." REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
Jean-Louis Granjon, 63, retired, holds a blackboard with the word "integrite" (integrity), the most important election issue for him, as he poses for Reuters in Chartres, France February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
Cathy Dos Santos, 21, unemployed, holds a blackboard with the word "honnetete" (honesty), the most important election issue for her, as she poses for Reuters in Chartres, France February 1, 2017. She said: "Being honest means voting according to your own feelings and not letting others tell you what you should do." REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
Bruno Sauvage, 52, unemployed, holds a blackboard with the word "corruption", the most important election issue for him, as he poses for Reuters in Chartres, France February 1, 2017. He said: "Politicians give us lessons, but they'd better look at themselves in a mirror." REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
Christophe Rouze, 58, an actor, holds a blackboard with the word "integrite" (integrity), the most important election issue for him, as he poses for Reuters in Chartres, France February 1, 2017. He said: "Politicians ask us to trust them, but we feel like the fall guys in a big farce." REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
Jacques Gioanetti, 68, retired, holds a blackboard with the word "honnetete" (honesty), the most important election issue for him, as he poses for Reuters in Chartres, France February 1, 2017. He said: "In politics today, it's one for all, all rotten. Promises are made but never kept." REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
Nathalie Reperant, 45, an insurance company employee, holds a blackboard with the word "chomage" (unemployment), the most important election issue for her, as she poses for Reuters in Chartres, France February 1, 2017. She said: "Without a job and money, you're on your way to hell." REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
Francoise Fichet, 69, retired, holds a blackboard with the word "chomage" (unemployment), the most important election issue for her, as she poses for Reuters in Chartres, France February 1, 2017. She said: "I don't hear anything extraordinary from our politicians even if some of their proposals do make sense." REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
Richard Martinez, 40, holds a blackboard with the word "emploi" (employment), the most important election issue for him, as he poses for Reuters in Chartres, France February 1, 2017. He said: "The social climate is getting more and more difficult, even in developed countries in the western world." REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
Nicolas Leroy, 29, a commercial employee, holds a blackboard with the phrase "baisse du chomage" (lowering unemployment), the most important election issue for him, as he poses for Reuters in Chartres, France February 1, 2017. He said: "The most important thing in our society is jobs. If you have one, you're alright. If you don't, you're in deep trouble." REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
Bruno Grausem, 44, a sales representative, holds a blackboard with the phrase "pouvoir d'achat" (purchasing power), the most important election issue for him, as he poses for Reuters in Chartres, France February 1, 2017. He said: "I would love for people to be able to buy something from me without having to ask me a thousand questions." REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
A person sticks to a board a note showing the election issue that is most important to them, in Chartres, France February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
Stephane Cordier, First Federal Secretary of the Eure-et-Loir department Socialist Party, poses for a photograph at the Socialist Party local offices in Mainvilliers, near Chartres, France February 2, 2017. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
Aleksandar Nikolic, Secretary of the National Front (FN) Eure-et-Loir department committee, poses for a photograph at the FN local offices, in Luce, near Chartres, France February 2, 2017. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
A portrait of Marie Le Pen hangs on the wall at a Front National office in Luce, near Chartres, France February 2, 2017. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
Jean-Pierre Gorges, mayor of Chartres, poses for a photograph in his office at City Hall in Chartres, France February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe 
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CHARTRES, France (Reuters) - Chartres has in past decades been a bellwether for France's presidential elections, but ahead of this spring's poll the signal from this white-collar city appears to be blurred by a scandal that has fed into a wave of anti-establishment feeling.

In at least the past four elections, the affluent city famous for its towering thirteenth century gothic cathedral has voted in close alignment with the final national result.

Lying in the Beauce plain 90 km (56 miles) southwest of Paris, Chartres counts perfume makers including Guerlain <LVMH.PA> and Danish pharmaceutical firm Novo Nordisk <NOVOb.CO> as local companies. It should be a fertile ground for center-right challenger Francois Fillon.

The 62-year-old former prime minister's clean-cut, clean-living image had held appeal in Chartres, run for over 15 years by a conservative mayor.

But embarrassing revelations that his family for years benefited from large parliamentary salaries have hurt that image.

In a Reuters poll of 100 people in Chartres city center, more than half said their vote was undecided. The survey intends to provide a snapshot of views in a single location and is not intended to reflect nationwide opinions.

For many in Chartres, the Fillon debacle was a factor behind their indecision.

"We are living at a time when the word integrity is becoming meaningless for our politicians. We've had some blatant examples in the past week", 86-year-old Maurice Beauzac told a Reuters multimedia team.

Fillon looked a shoo-in for the Elysee palace before the scandal surfaced two weeks ago, campaigning on a free-market platform to reduce regulation and haul down the stubbornly high unemployment rate.

Now opinion polls suggest he will crash out in the first round. So too will the candidate of the ruling Socialist Party, Benoit Hamon, the surveys indicate, as mainstream parties battle against a rising tide of populism across Europe.

The favorites to reach the runoff vote on May 7 are the far-right National Front's leader, Marine Le Pen, and independent challenger Emmanuel Macron who has yet to release a full manifesto.

Among those polled by Reuters in Chartres, 25 percent said unemployment was their number one concern, while 19 percent named a lack of integrity, or honesty, as their main worry.

"FED UP"

The high level of uncertainty in Chartres underlines how wide open the presidential race remains. It also points to the disaffection many voters feel towards the political elite.

"People are becoming less and less interested in politics," said Sebastien Renault, a 35-year-old florist. "It's a world of sharks out there, one eating the other."

It is a sentiment that will worry the main political parties, especially in a place where unemployment runs almost two points below the national average of nearly 10 percent, and a median annual salary of 30,000 euros places it in the top 10 for cities of its small size.

"Like France, Chartres is fed up with the traditional political system but it's not only linked with the recent affairs," said Mayor Jean-Pierre Gorges.

"It's just that the situation in this country has been deteriorating for the past 40 years. Almost everybody has somebody in his family who is out of work."

France's outgoing president, Francois Hollande, was elected in 2012 on a promise to create jobs, winning the hearts of socialists by declaring banks to be his "main enemy" and pledging extra taxes for millionaires.

But he later launched reforms -- including cutting corporate taxes and legislation to make it easier for companies to hire and fire -- that traditional socialists viewed as a betrayal of left-wing values.

Now it is the anti-European Union Le Pen who rails against free-trade who is pitching herself as the true defender of French workers' interests.

Against this backdrop, some in the National Front are optimistic the party will get a boost from the Fillon scandal.

"I think all of this clearly plays in Marine's favor," said Aleksandar Nikolic, the youthful head of the National Front's regional branch.

Nikolic expressed surprise that immigration and security ranked low among the concerns of those polled by Reuters.

"When we ask the people here what their main concerns are, security and immigration clearly come first," he said.

(Additional reporting by Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Johnny Cotton; Editing by Richard Lough)

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