What Do America’s Most Admired Men and Women Say About America?


This is a month old, but Tyler Cowen happened to highlight it today so I thought I’d pass it along. Here are America’s most admired men and women at the end of 2014:

I suppose there are no huge surprises here. Presidents and first ladies always do well. People in the news often do well. And while I was alarmed when I saw Vladimir Putin on the list in Cowen’s post, I’m a little less alarmed now. He’s at the very bottom of the 1 percenters, which likely means he was named by something like 0.6 percent of Americans and then rounded up. This comes to a grand total of about five people in the survey group, which I suppose is nothing to get too stirred up about.

Not a single dead person continues to make the list, which explains why Ronald Reagan, John Paul II, and Margaret Thatcher are off the list. Queen Elizabeth II is a perennial favorite and she’s still alive, but after the excitement of her Diamond Jubilee faded, I guess she did too.

What’s the biggest surprise on the list? I’d say Condoleezza Rice. She’s remarkably high on the list for someone associated with an unpopular war and not much recent news coverage. She’s at the very top of the list among Republicans, though, so there must be more going on here than I realize. Rice has been rising in popularity over the last couple of years, and surely that’s not just because she was part of college football’s playoff selection committee last year, was it? Nor do I feel like I see her on Fox News a lot. So what’s going on?

Completely missing from the list are: sports stars, military figures, authors and artists not already famous for something else, and liberal pundits of any kind. Almost missing are politicians aside from ex-presidents and first ladies (Elizabeth Warren is the exception—barely); Republican presidential wannabes (Ben Carson is the exception); and scientists (Stephen Hawking is the exception, almost certainly based solely on the recent biopic). Overall, conservative men do much better than conservative women.

As Cowen asks, “Given who is on the list, what should we infer about America as a nation? About human nature?”