Contrary to a stereotype popular among Americans, France likes the United States. In fact, in 2011, the Pew Research Center ranked France 4th in the world in terms of having a favorable view of the United States. Only one rank lower than the United States itself.
To be fair, the stereotype was not completely unfounded. The friendship between France and the United States has had its share of highs and lows, and recent history has been more about the latter. The replacement of the expression “french fries” by “freedom fries” is one reminder of the tension between the two countries in past years.
What can explain the change of mind of the French about the United States? One word, actually one person, Barack Obama.
The Pew Research Center’s surveys start in 2002 and allow an interesting analysis of how France’s taste for the United States has evolved. In 2002, beginning with the intervention in Afghanistan supported by France, 62% of French people had a favorable opinion of the United States. It plunged to 37% by 2004, a year into the intervention in Iraq, which had been vetoed by France. The Obama effect is extremely clear as the popularity of the United States rose from 42% in 2008 to 75% in 2009.
Is this the only factor that can explain the rise in the United States’ popularity among French people? Apparently, yes, as two questions asked by the Pew Research Center in its surveys really highlight the fact that the popularity of the United States in France is linked to the personality of its president.
This new love for the United States cannot be explained by a revived interest in American culture by France. When asked, “Do you think it is a good that American ideas and customs are spreading in France,” only 25 % of French people said yes in 2002, 18% in 2007 and 29% in 2012. On this question, France has been rather consistant.
However, on the question of the popularity of the President of the United States in France, it is day and night. In 2008, only 13% of France had confidence in the President of the United States. In 2009, after Obama’s election, this number rose to 91% — that is to say, a 600% increase. This popularity remains extremely high. If this year’s election were played out in France, a recent survey reports that 72% would vote in favor of Obama versus 2% in favor of Romney.
If we can conclude one thing from these surveys, it is that as long as Obama remains the president, France will like the United States.