As polls start to close, nerves are frayed. Citizens huddle together, clutching mini American flags and discussing the two Americas that might emerge after election day.
“I am very nervous,” says Martine Poirier, who just cast her ballot with her daughter at her side. “This is not just any election.”
But this is not a polling station in Pittsburgh, Pa., or St. Petersburg, Fla. This is a town hall in Paris, where a city frets over what is largely viewed as the highest-stakes political race of a generation.
In Paris’s 3rd arrondissement, the town hall is adorning its neo-Renaissance façade in stars and stripes and organizing a faux vote. Next door, a 19th-century covered market, converted into a performance space, opened its doors at 7 p.m. Paris time (1 p.m. EST) and is offering roundtables, concerts, American political movies, and full coverage on CNN and the French 24-hour network BFMTV through the night, until 7 a.m., when results should be known.
It is packed.
“We wouldn’t have done this for just any election, says Sandrina Martins, co-director of the performance space, the Carreau du Temple. “This is an extraordinary moment.”
Indeed, these two blocks of Paris are a window onto a world gripped by a US presidential race that they feel will have just as much impact on their lives and future as it will on Americans, from policy on NATO, to trade deals, to environmental agreements, to national tolerance.
Europe is overwhelmingly with Hillary Clinton, with a YouGov poll from last month in Britain, Germany, France, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland giving Ms. Clinton a huge lead: 46 percent said they would vote for her, compared with 6 percent for Donald Trump.
Fourteen percent would have voted for Bernie Sanders, and 2 percent for Ted Cruz. Inside the Carreau du Temple, Clinton’s cutout is getting a lot more love than Mr. Trump’s, with the crowd taking selfies with her. One kissed her cheek. Not a few flicked Trump in the face. In the poll, fear was chosen as the dominant reaction if Trump wins; the dominating feeling if Clinton wins is “relief.”
But Florent Brunetti, a political science student in Paris, says neither is well loved. That's a contrast with the admiration Europe showed for President Obama in 2008, the first time Mr. Brunetti stayed up all night to watch a US election.
“People are drawn here because they are both strong figures,” he says, and it is an era of strong emotion on both sides of the Atlantic.
He eyes the line outside, with hundreds waiting patiently in the rain to join the all-nighter – some told to go home by security personnel – and contradicting other YouGov data that showed 41 percent of the French “not interested” in this election (the lowest rate of the seven countries polled).
Those inside, a mix of French, American, and foreigners – are sitting around listening to talks, some on the state of democracy and populism in the West, another on the prospect of a woman leading the White House. Later they will watch movies from "First Date" to "Charlie Wilson’s War."
Many others are, and will remain, fixated on the results trickling in on the television screens.
It’s easy at moments to forget that this is France, not the US. But Ms. Martins says the adrenaline, tension, and demand for a resolution spans borders – and makes a performance space the perfect place for this to play out in Paris.
“This is an evening to elect the most powerful person in the world,” says Martins. “This is true drama.”