WASHINGTON, D.C. — Americans are most likely to name President Donald Trump and Michelle Obama as most admired man and woman in 2020. Trump tied former President Barack Obama for the honor last year but edged out his predecessor this year. Trump’s first-place finish ends a 12-year run as most admired man for Obama, tied with Dwight Eisenhower for the most ever.
Meanwhile, Michelle Obama ranks as most admired woman for the third year in a row. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is second.
Most Admired Man
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.
Even though Trump is similarly unpopular now — 39% approve of his performance — his dominant performance among Republicans, contrasted with Democrats splitting their choices among multiple public figures, pushes him to the top of the 2020 most admired man list.
- 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.
In addition to the public figures named by Americans, 11% name a relative or friend as the man they admire most. Twenty-one percent did not offer an opinion in response to the open-ended question.
This year marks the 10th time Trump has finished among the top 10 men, including four times before he entered party politics — 1988 through 1990 and 2011. Gates has finished in the top 10 a total of 21 times, while Obama has now done so 15 times and the Dalai Lama 11 times. Biden has been in the top 10 once before, in 2018, while Fauci and James are new to the list.
The Rev. Billy Graham, who passed away in 2018, finished among the top 10 a record 61 times during his life. Former President Jimmy Carter is the living man with the most top 10 finishes — 29 — putting him behind Graham and Ronald Reagan for third all-time. Carter finishes just outside the top 10 this year but made the 2019 list.
Pope John Paul II and Gen. Douglas MacArthur frequently made the top 10. They, along with Henry Kissinger, are the only men who were not future, current or former presidents to finish first overall in any year. MacArthur was most admired man in 1946, 1947 and 1951; Kissinger topped the list from 1973 through 1975, and Pope John Paul II did so in 1980.
Most Admired Woman
Just as men who were president have dominated the most admired man list, women who were first lady have commonly been named most admired woman. Gallup has asked the public to name the woman they admire most 71 times since 1948, with either a current (18) or a former (39) first lady winning a total of 57 times. That has been the case every year since 1997, with Hillary Clinton accounting for most of those — but Michelle Obama (2018 through 2020) and Laura Bush (2001) also finished first during that time span.
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.
Sixteen percent of Americans name a relative or friend as the woman they admire most, and 19% do not have an opinion.
Partisans tend to name public figures aligned with their own party when answering the most admired woman question. Trump leads among Republicans at 8%, followed by Barrett (4%) and Haley (4%). Democrats are about equally likely to name Obama (17%) and Harris (16%), and 5% name Ocasio-Cortez.
Obama leads among independents (11%), with Trump second at 4%.
Queen Extends Record of Top 10 Finishes
Queen Elizabeth’s top 10 finish this year is her 52nd, far more than any other woman. Margaret Thatcher is second on the list with 34 top 10 appearances, followed by Winfrey at 33 and Clinton with 29.
Clinton, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Mamie Eisenhower, Barbara Bush, Nancy Reagan, Betty Ford and Pat Nixon are the current or former first ladies who have placed in the top 10 at least 15 times. Obama has finished among the leaders 13 times to date.
Non-first ladies who have finished first in past years include Sister Elizabeth Kenny (1951); Ethel Kennedy, the widow of Sen. Robert Kennedy (1968); former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir (1971, 1973-1974); Mother Teresa (1980, 1986, 1995-1996); and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (1982-1984 and 1988-1990).
Past, present and future White House occupants, whether presidents or first ladies, have figured prominently when Gallup has asked Americans to name the man and woman they admire most. As such, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden are likely to remain strong contenders for the most admired man title in the coming years. Should Trump continue to dominate Republicans’ consciousnesses — currently, Republicans rarely name any other public person than him — he will have a good chance of winning in future years, especially if Democrats continue to split their choices between Obama and Biden. Still, former presidents typically have not been top of mind for Americans — only Obama and Eisenhower received 10% or more mentions in any year after they left office.
Harris’ prominent role in the forthcoming Biden administration should raise her national profile in the coming year, and possibly position her to overtake Michelle Obama as most admired woman.