It is an enduring myth that heads of state and other international leaders are often more admired abroad than at home. The prophet is not without honor, save in his own country. It has been argued, for example, that Richard Nixon's popularity in other countries continued to grow during the Watergate crisis almost in inverse proportion to its decline in the United States. In fact, there has been no systematic study of the popularity of political leaders outside of their own countries. The little evidence that exists suggests that, although important leaders are often admired by foreign political elites when they are unpopular at home, the reaction of mass publics is less clear. Thus, European political leaders were often sympathetic to the plight of Richard Nixon as the Watergate affair evolved between 1973 and 1975, but mass public opinion was far more negative.
Charles de Gaulle did not fit the pattern, at least not in the United States. His 30 years of world prominence, 1940-70, may have produced a roller-coaster pattern of popularity in France, but the limited data we have indicate that in the United States, he became increasingly unpopular as he consolidated his power during the Fifth Republic, and, in the process, challenged the “hegemony” of the United States. Among American political elites, he seems to have been consistently unpopular, and revisions in that assessment were not to come before his second retreat to Colombey in 1969.
On the centenary of de Gaulle's birth (and the 20th anniversary of his death), we undertook a reevaluation of the current public status of de Gaulle in America through a survey of a select group of opinion leaders whose preoccupations would enable them to form considered judgments about him as a political leader, and whose judgments would be transmitted to succeeding generations of university students.