American Culture Holds Tremendous Appeal Worldwide

Developing countries are particularly enthusiastic about American cultural exports
February 16, 2023 at 1:00 am UTC

This article is part of a series on Global Perceptions of the United States, leveraging surveys from 17 countries on six continents to understand how American society, culture and politics are perceived around the world.

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Adults around the world are complimentary of U.S. commercial products and art, illustrating the enduring global appeal of American cultural exports, according to Morning Consult survey data from 17 countries.

American Culture Is Overwhelmingly Popular Abroad

Share of adults in each country who described each cultural product from the United States as…
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Surveys conducted in October, November and December of 2022 among representative samples of 1,000 adults in each country, with unweighted margins of error of +/-3 percentage points. “Don’t know/No opinion” responses are not shown.

People abroad like U.S. cultural products and art

  • Views of American movies, television, music, goods and food and drink are particularly positive in the developing world. Among all African and Latin American countries surveyed, at least half rated each category as “excellent” or “good,” often with vanishingly small shares holding negative opinions. 
  • In wealthier countries, views are often slightly less enthusiastic but still largely positive. More adults than not in every European country surveyed view American movies, TV and music favorably. Adults in Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, are the least likely to say American products and art are good or excellent but positive opinions still mostly outnumber negative ones.
  • Among wealthy Anglosphere countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, British adults tend to have more positive views of American movies, TV and music than food or goods. Canadians, on the other hand, are not particularly negative about any U.S. cultural export, possibly due to very high levels of similarity between American and Canadian material culture, though they prefer U.S. entertainment to its goods, food and beverages. 
  • French and Japanese views of American food and drink are the only instances in which negative views outweighed positive views. More than a third of French respondents say American food is “poor” or “terrible,” while just 3% of Japanese say it is “excellent.” It’s a reflection of the particularly strong culinary traditions of those two countries, which boast 37% of all three Michelin-starred restaurants worldwide.

Great cultural influence can create geopolitical clout

During his commencement address at Berklee College of Music in 1993, musician Billy Joel said the world loves America’s cultural exports, which are “probably a better way to get to know our country than by what the politicians or airline commercials represent.”

At least the first half of that claim appears to be largely true. Across the world — regardless of ethnic demographics, national income or geography — people tend to think highly of American arts and goods.

So much so that it often factors into politics abroad. For example, after World War II the French left wing complained about “Cocacolonisation,” and even today the Académie Française tries to moderate the influx of English terms into the French language. Canada, meanwhile, attempts to protect its relatively small television and music industries from the gargantuan American markets by mandating a minimum quantity of Canadian media be broadcast on public airwaves.

And sometimes U.S. cultural artifacts become intertwined in the affairs of superpowers, such as Levi Strauss & Co.’s 501 blue jeans. Their association with dissent from the Kremlin led to a thriving black market for denim behind the Iron Curtain — just look at how many East Germans are wearing blue jeans or even all denim outfits in archival photos of the fall of the Berlin Wall. 

And Washington has been known to use American cultural exports for its own ends. Films such as “Top Gun” and its sequel, for example, are just the latest in a long line of productions, dating back to World War II, to receive generous support from the Pentagon in exchange for flattering portrayals of the U.S. military.

The Morning Consult surveys were conducted Oct. 14-18, Oct. 26-29, Nov. 16-21 and Dec. 15-30, 2022, among a representative sample of 1,000 adults in each country, with unweighted margins of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

A headshot photograph of Matthew Kendrick
Matthew Kendrick
Data Reporter

Matthew Kendrick previously worked at Morning Consult as a data reporter covering geopolitics and foreign affairs.

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