America and France on Equal Footing: Neither Are Happy With Obama



This week saw a successful and friendly state dinner held at the White House for visiting French President François Hollande, with both sides indicating renewed trust and confidence in their international alliance. In light of this, it seems an appropriate time to take a look at France’s perception of America’s present leadership. While President Hollande may have used rhetoric that suggests past spying issues and Iraq war disagreements are water under the bridge, France as a nation shows dissatisfaction with President Obama comparable to American’s own views — and that’s saying something.

Gallup released a poll this week that recorded French citizen’s view on the American President, with an approval rating at a mere 40 percent. It’s notable that only 26 percent disapproved, compared to the 34 percent who had no opinion or refused to give comment. Additionally, French opinion on Obama is considerably higher than their approval rating for Bush Junior near the end of his time as president, when, according to Gallup, it was in the single digits.

“French approval of U.S. leadership quadrupled at the start of Obama’s president, peaking at 55 percent approval in 2010,” read Gallup’s article, adding that possible sources of tension include Guantanamo Bay policy, continued presence in Afghanistan, and the military drone issue. Perhaps with cooperation on Syrian peace efforts, monitoring of Iran’s nuclear power, and climate change, there could be improvement in Obama’s polling future.

As for American’s views of their own president, Obama’s fifth year in office put his average job approval rating at 45.8 percent — better than France’s polling average, but not by much. His lowest approval rating hit 44.4 percent in his third year in office, according to Gallup, likely brought down by healthcare issues and the shutdown — not to mention the rather common trend of bad numbers in many president’s fifth years.

American’s view of France — a notably different question, but the one Gallup has numbers for — is considerably more positive. In 2014, 78 percent of those American’s polled said they had an overall favorable opinion of France. Back in 2013, the United States French sentiment scraped the floor at 34 percent favorable opinion, with 64 percent seeing France in an unfavorable light in the March 2003 Gallup poll, and 39 percent seeing the country “very unfavorably.”

The reason for the heavily negative views — historically, a nation that has been an ally — is likely a result of France’s disapproval of America’s war in Iraq, a political dissonance that, according to Gallup, led some restaurants to change the name of their French fries to “freedom fries” and French toast to “freedom toast.” This isn’t a unique tactic, for example “hot dogs,” which were once called “Frankfurters” until World War II and relations with Germany resulted in the name change.

The 2000s showed an increase in favorable views, reaching 69 percent favorability by 2008. It’s notable that President Hollande has been embroiled in a scandal recently, revolving around his split with long-time partner Valerie Trierweiler. The split was a result of his affair with a well-known actress, and would perhaps make a poll on French leadership an interesting and more comparable examination, though not related to his political positions.

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