A month before his inauguration, Americans choose Barack Obama as the man they admire most in the world, according to a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll. It's the first time a president-elect has topped the annual survey in more than a half-century.
President Bush falls to a distant second after seven years as the most-admired man.
Hillary Rodham Clinton leads the list of most-admired woman, a spot she's held for 13 of the past 16 years — as first lady, then New York senator and now Obama's designate for secretary of State. A newcomer is second: Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who wasn't well-known nationally until Republican presidential candidate John McCain chose her as his running mate in August.
The findings, a snapshot of public opinion at the end of a tumultuous year, reflect soaring expectations for an incoming president who will take over daunting economic challenges on Jan. 20.
"Things are down so much at the end of 2008 and the end of Bush's administration … and Obama represents a new beginning and some hope and anticipation that things can get better," says James McPherson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and editor of 'To the Best of My Ability:' The American Presidents.
That could be a "two-edged sword," McPherson adds. "High hopes are bound to be disappointed in some degree," he says, "but it also gives him a honeymoon period which is one of real opportunity for him to try to get things done because he'll have a lot of support and a lot of good will."
One-third of Americans call Obama their first or second choice for most-admired man. The only higher support for a man in the history of the survey was Bush's 39% rating in 2001, months after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.
The survey of 1,008 adults, taken by landline and cellphone Dec. 12-14, has an error margin of +/—3 percentage points.
Among women, Michelle Obama is rated fifth, following talk-show host Oprah Winfrey at third and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at fourth.
Among men, McCain is ranked third and three others tie for fourth: Pope Benedict XVI, the Rev. Billy Graham and former president Bill Clinton.
Obama's rise is matched by Bush's decline. The president's support has ebbed nearly every year since 2001, falling to 5% this year.
That matches the presidential low point reached by Harry Truman in 1952. Dwight Eisenhower scored first that year, the only other time a president-elect has led the list since Gallup began asking the question in 1948.