Since Gallup began asking Americans the people they admired the most, there’s been a consistent pattern: Whoever was president or president-elect was almost always the man the country admired the most. The most admired woman? Usually someone who had been married to a president.
Only five times has the most admired man in the country not been a president — past, current or elected. And in 2016, the trend continued, with President Obama retaining the title he’s held since 2008.
For each of the past 15 years, the most admired woman has been a very particular former first lady: Hillary Clinton. Clinton has been named America’s most admired woman 21 times, the most of any winner of the title. It’s often been a squeaker, such as when she narrowly edged out Sarah Palin in 2009. But in 2016, as in years past, no woman has been identified as the most admired more than Clinton.
This news, coming at this moment, will probably be somewhat galling to Trump. Over the weekend, Obama told his former adviser David Axelrod that he believed he could have won in 2016, a claim at which Trump chafed. To lose an admiration contest in the wake of that seems as though it would be particularly frustrating to the president-elect.
It’s probably a function of the popularity of each man. In 2008, Obama won the most-admired title easily, thanks to his historic election and George W. Bush’s low approval ratings. In 2000, Bill Clinton topped George W. Bush, albeit barely. By 2001, Bush set a record in the polling, with 39 percent identifying him as most admired — thanks in no small part to his response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The big question is what happens next year. Past presidents have often won the crown of most admired, as noted above. Bill Clinton, for example, has been in the top 10 for 25 years. (Trump has made the top 10 six times, including 1988 through 1990, 2011 and last year.) Will Obama continue to be viewed as more admirable to Americans even once Trump has taken office?