Gallup’s annual ranking of Most Admired Man and Most Admired Woman is out. The winners for 2020 are President Trump and Michelle Obama. Trump’s top ranking is notable because he beat out Barack Obama, putting a halt to Obama’s twelve-year run as Most Admired Man. Last year, Trump and Obama tied for the top spot.
Obama’s twelve-year record ties that of Dwight Eisenhower as the most ever to receive a first-place ranking. The most admired person doesn’t have to be from America, he or she can be from anywhere in the world. It’s good to know that Americans choose other Americans, though. The incumbent president usually wins, though not always.
The incumbent president is usually top of mind when Gallup asks Americans to name, without prompting, which man living anywhere in the world they admire most. In the 74 times Gallup has asked the open-ended most admired man question since 1946, the incumbent president has topped the list 60 times. Harry Truman (1946-1947 and 1950-1952), Lyndon Johnson (1967-1968), Richard Nixon (1973), Gerald Ford (1974-1975), Jimmy Carter (1980), George W. Bush (2008) and Trump (2017-2018) are the incumbent presidents who did not finish first in past years.
When the sitting president is not the top choice, it is usually because he is unpopular politically. That was the case in 2017 and 2018 when Trump had 36% and 40% approval ratings, respectively, and finished second to Obama as most admired man.
During Trump’s presidency, his favorable ratings have remained fairly consistent. Unlike other presidents, his approval ratings don’t fluctuate up and down. His current approval rating of 39% is pretty much where he’s been for four years. Gallup found Trump’s approval rating peaked at 46% before the election from October 16 to 27. That number has slipped back down since the election, now at 39%.
Trump remains a highly popular choice with Republicans while the Democrats split their votes among many public figures. Obama’s number dipped this year and Joe Biden is way down in his percentage of public admiration. Dr. Fauci made the list, with more support from Democrats (5%) than Republicans (1%). The rest of the top ten list is a mix of a variety of men, from Pope Francis to Bernie Sanders.
Forty-eight percent of Republicans name Trump this year, with no other public figure receiving more than 2% of Republicans’ votes.
Obama is the top choice among Democrats, at 32%, but that is down from 41% last year. President-elect Joe Biden (13%) is also commonly named by Democrats.
Additionally, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, is named by 5% of Democrats but only 1% of Republicans, further contributing to Democrats’ relative dispersion of choices.
Independents are evenly split between Trump (11%) and Obama (11%), with another 3% naming Biden and 2% Fauci.
Overall, 18% of Americans name Trump, 15% name Obama, 6% Biden and 3% Fauci. The remaining top 10 men include Pope Francis, businessman Elon Musk, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates, basketball player LeBron James, and the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists.
One nice observation of the poll shows that 11% of Americans named a male relative or friend as their Most Admired Man. I imagine that the coronavirus pandemic has something to do with that this year. First responders and health care workers are frequently recognized for their extraordinary efforts by friends and family. Twenty-one percent didn’t have a response to the question of which man they most admired, which may be the most 2020 answer of all.
There is an interesting breakdown of how many times people have made the list. This is Trump’s 10th time, Obama has made the list 15 times. It’s the first time for Fauci and LeBron James. It is Biden’s second time. The Rev. Billy Graham, now deceased, holds the record for the most times on the top ten list – 61 times in his life. The all-time top three are rounded out by Ronald Reagan (31) and Jimmy Carter (29).
The Most Admired Woman for 2020 is Michelle Obama. I know, I’ve never understood her appeal, either. First ladies usually top the list, as presidents do. Of the 71 times this poll has been taken, a first lady, current or past, has won the top spot 57 times. This is Michelle Obama’s third year in a row. Before her, Hillary Clinton mostly won from 1997 until 2018, with one exception – Laura Bush in 2001. Kamala Harris finished in second place this year.
This year, 10% of Americans name Obama as most admired woman, 6% name Harris, and 4% name current first lady Melania Trump. Trump has been in the top 10 each of the past four years but has never finished first, joining Bess Truman and Lady Bird Johnson as former or current first ladies not to have received the distinction.
The remainder of the top 10 most admired women this year include television personality Oprah Winfrey, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Clinton, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Queen Elizabeth II, Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett and climate change activist Greta Thunberg.
Several other women were named by 1% of Americans, including singer Dolly Parton, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, actress Betty White and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. These women did not make the top 10 because they had fewer total mentions than Barrett and Thunberg.
I’ve written in support of Melania Trump’s time as the first lady and it’s a shame she won’t receive the recognition she deserves because of her last name. Typically, conservative women don’t make the list. Melania has shown grace and dignity under four very stressful years in the White House. Along the same lines as the male category, 16% named a relative or friend, while 19% offered no opinion.
Partisan politics plays a role. Participants in the poll tend to name people in their own political party. Melania Trump lead with Republicans at 8%. Amy Coney Barrett and Nikki Haley tied with 4%. Democrats chose Obama (17%) and Harris (16%), with Ocasio-Cortez coming in with 5% support. With Independents, Obama led with 11% over Melania’s 4%. That makes sense, given that Independents voted in larger numbers for Biden in the November election. Jill Biden, by the way, doesn’t make the top ten list. Perhaps that will change in 2021.
Queen Elizabeth’s record is intact as the woman who has made the list the most times. This is her 52nd appearance on the top ten list. Margaret Thatcher is second on the list with 34 top 10 appearances. Oprah (33) and Hillary Clinton (29) are in third and fourth place.
This annual poll isn’t particularly important in the grand scheme of things but it’s interesting to see the results, to see what this group of participants thought about public figures and others who might deserve recognition. This year has been an odd one, to put it mildly, but these results look to be fairly typical – a little bit of normal.