The modern quest for admiration

The modern quest for admiration

Bill Gates has remained the most admired man in the world this year and Michelle Obama took first place among women, according to YouGov’s annual examination of public figures.

In an always online world, perception is everything. It can make or break brands or propel political figures to power. This year, YouGov expanded its study to cover the views of people in 41 countries, gathering an intriguing snapshot of who is admired – and the relationship people’s admiration has with their success.

The key takeaways

Curiously, the top five most admired men in the world remained unchanged from last year, including (in order): Bill Gates, Barack Obama, Jackie Chan, Xi Jinping and Jack Ma. Two new men joined the top twenty: Indian actors Shahrukh Khan and Salman Khan. Otherwise, the men’s list was largely static, with some minor shuffling occurring past the top five.

Yet the top twenty most admired women in the world had far more changes. Five new faces joined the list, including Ellen DeGeneres, Melania Trump, Peng Liyuan, Tu Youyou and Sushmita Sen. Michelle Obama has taken the top spot, pushing Angelina Jolie – yes, Angelina Jolie – down to number three. Entertainers largely dominated the female list, with 12 of the most admired women being actresses, singers or TV presenters.

Gone but not forgotten

Oprah Winfrey remains at number two on the list, despite The Oprah Winfrey Show having been off the air since 2011. She even rose one spot in the last year. While Oprah Winfrey has certainly remained active, starring in films and even setting up her own television network, her online presence has arguably diminished in recent years.

Emma Watson has also in many ways left the public eye. Though she is still starring in films like Beauty and the Beast and the upcoming Little Women, her attention seems to have shifted to humanitarian work – making it clear that admiration has a far more long-lasting effect than popularity.

Admiration does not equal adulation

Public perception also did not always line up with what was expected. Theresa May – who was the subject of a recent Guardian article naming her the worst Prime Minister in modern times – holds the number 18 spot in the women’s category. Angela Merkel, who has similarly been criticised, despite being in office for the last 14 years, sits comfortably at number 12.

In the men’s column, the situation is similar. Much is made of Donald Trump’s Presidency, yet he is more admired than the Pope. The Dalai Lama, who recently stated that if a woman took his job she needs to be attractive, is the eighth most admired man.

A common denominator?

So what, if any, thread can be weaved through all these public figures? Humanitarian work is clearly a key focus for admiration – Bill Gates, Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Angelina Jolie are known today for their focus on bettering their environment. Lionel Messi, one of only two sports people on the list, is also renowned for his treatment of fans and level head off the pitch. Yet admiration also seems to be a strange term to use, as it does not measure popularity as much as acknowledging work done. While some may not agree with all the choices made and views of the men and women on the list, they are all trying to affect and, in their view, improve the world. Whether that makes them worthy of admiration remains ultimately up to the public.

Laurens Grisel

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