Obituary: Jean Charlot

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The Independent Online
Jean Charlot was an elegant writer, an electoral analyst of stature, a political commentator and the most eminent of the researchers on the French Gaullist movement. His stature in all of these disparate fields is assured but he is known to different audiences for very different talents.

He was born in Guingamp and educated at the lycees there and in Valenciennes. Over a long career, he rose through the Fondation National des Sciences Politiques and, after taking a doctorate, became a Professor at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques in Paris in 1978. He was a visiting Professor at the universities of Lausanne and Liege (where he was doctor honoris causa). He was Secretary General of the Association Francaise de Science Politique (1975-79) and on its board from that time.

Charlot was one of the first and most eloquent electoral commentators. France is continuously bathed in opinion polls and Charlot made it part of his business to explain these, and especially the trends which underlay them, to a wider public, both through his appearances on television and as a columnist (regularly for Le Point, but also for Le Figaro and Le Monde). In a country where there are many more academic television personalities that in Britain, he was an IFOP (Institut Francais d'Opinion Pub-lique) "pollster" and a populiser in the best sense of the term.

Within the French intellectual elite, which notoriously lent to the left, Charlot was an exception: a committed Gaullist and an associate of Gaullist leaders but at the same time a careful analyst. In this capacity he was a pollster on call to the neo-Gaullist Rassemblement pour la Republique (RPR) movement set up in 1976 by Jacques Chirac and delivered a number of private studies of public opinion to the RPR. Politically activist, propagandist, or polemical academics are also no novelty in France, but Charlot was from a different stamp: a passionate Gaullist but a dispassionate observer, an engaged but objective commentator. There was no mistaking Charlot's reasoned and sympathetic style, which took political matter and reduced it to a seamless and understandable flow of explication without "talking down".

Charlot's works on Gaullism and the Gaullist movement are standards. Yet his broad range of academic work also covered the analysis of opinion polls, the conceptual understanding of political parties and a widely admired basic text. His work on the Gaullist movement included his L'Union pour la Nouvelle Republique (1967), the famous Le Phenomene Gaulliste (1970, translated into English as The Gaullist Phenomenon, 1971, and many other languages) and Le Gaullisme d'opposition 1946-58 (1983). He contributed to the understanding of de Gaulle with the technical Les francais et de Gaulle (1971) and he edited Quand la gauche peut gagner . . . (1973) both based on polling work by IFOP. He also wrote the important Les Partis Politiques (1971) and the overview La Politique en France (1994). In addition to his journalistic output, Charlot was a prolific contributor to many compilations and technical journals and will be remembered in that domain as an innovative researcher within the rising discipline of western (and French) "political science" after the Second World War.

Charlot was a kindly and modest man with absolutely no "side". Although one of the most distinguished academics of his generation, he was generous to the newer entrants into the profession and contributed his time unfailingly. His determination to get to a Northern university one year, in the middle of a February freeze-up which stopped all public transport, to contribute to an Institut de Gaulle Colloquium, was way beyond the call of duty.

Charlot's last book Pourquoi Jacques Chirac? (1995), dissecting the 1995 presidential race, showed him at his best. In this he combined insider access and sympathy for the new president with over 30 years of work on the Gaullist movement and his pleasure at seeing a Gaullist once again in the Elysee was understandable. His discussions (in very good English) of the last two presidential campaigns will be remembered by contemporary students and academics. He was a devoted family man and he was a frequent visitor to England (his wife Monica ran the Maison Francaise in Oxford in the 1980s).

Jean Charlot, political scientist: born Guingamp, Cotes-du-Nord 16 March 1932; Professor, Paris Institut d'Etudes Politiques 1978-97; married 1956 Monica Huber (three daughters); died 6 March 1997.