Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Who do we admire?

I saw the results of a recent poll indicating that the three most admired men in America are, in order, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. Well, I thought, that's all sorts of interesting. It's interesting that it would be the three most recent presidents (we still admire politicians?). It's also interesting that, as much as they may be the three most admired Americans, I'd wager that there are quite a lot of people who have strongly negative views of each of those men. I wonder what it would look like if there was some kind of overall admiration index that takes into account both the positive and negative? Not incidental to all of this, the top three women were Hilary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and Oprah (with Michelle Obama fourth). It's interesting that, again, we have polarizing political figures at the top.

I saw all this on the evening news (my mother is visiting, hence the trip in the wayback machine to the days of nightly news), so I should have figured right off that there's more to it. If we look deeper--going to the source, we see that Obama was #1 with 22%, followed by Bush with 5% and Clinton with 4%. Two points to make about that--Obama's place in the top spot was by a large margin... but it was still very much a minority opinion. Here's a surprise hidden deeper in the numbers: Obama got 46% of Democrats' votes, followed by Clinton and Nelson Mandela (then Jimmy Carter and the Dalai Lama); among Republicans, 11% said W, followed by 6% saying Obama. Yes, you read that right (behind him, Glen Beck tied Pope Benedict and they narrowly led Billy Graham, in case you were wondering). There's something astounding in that, no? Among independents, it was Obama (17%), Clinton (4%), Bush (3%), the Bill Gates and Billy Graham.

Obama's numbers were down from 2008 and 2009, but there's something interesting in those results (maybe he's not as hopeless in 2012 as many think?). Is it just that the President is still an admired man in America, no matter who he is? That the office is somehow inherently admirable in the minds of Americans generally? In Obama's first year, he was at 30%, while Bush in his first year was at 39% (and in his fourth was still at 23%. Is that the rea message here? Or does the meaning behind these numbers have to do with the fact that no one got even a quarter of the vote? And after Obama, it was fewer than 5%--is it just a symptom of how fractured our culture is, that we can't agree on who to admire? If so, it's not a new phenomenon: back even as far as Eisenhower, Presidents' numbers (at least in their first terms, which is what I have data on) are pretty consistent, never getting more than 1/3 to <2/5.

Hilary Clinton, it should be said, "has dominated... for most of the past two decades, earning 15 No. 1 rankings since her first appearance on the list in 1992." Her number this year was just 17%.

Oh, and I forgot one other message: you won't get depth from the evening news.

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