It’s long been a tradition for me, every New Year’s eve, to look for the release of Gallup’s annual December poll of the most admired man and woman in the world. Virtually every December since 1946, Gallup has been asking Americans, without prompting, to name the living man and woman in the entire world that they admire most. Because the poll has been administered without prompting, the same way at the same time every year since the 1940s, it serves as an excellent historical record of power, prestige, and post-war American values.
Almost every year the most admired man is the sitting president of the United States and almost every year, the most admired woman is a sitting or former first lady or the sitting female head of state of some other country worthy of America’s attention.
Earlier this week, the poll results for 2014 were released. Because there is no pre-selected list for poll respondents to choose from, and because they are free to name any of the billions of people on Earth as the man and woman they admire most, just getting mentioned by 1% of Americans is a colossal honor, and puts you among the 10 most worshiped men and women.
Most of the people who make the list are self-made, but a few largely inherited their fame or status from a spouse or parent.
Most admired men of 2014
1. Barack Obama (self-made) 19% (up 19% from 2013)
2. Pope Francis (self-made) 6% (up 50%)
3. Bill Clinton (self-made) 3% (up 50%)
4. Rev. Billy Graham (self-made) 2% (no change)
5. George W. Bush 2% (down 50%)
6, Ben Carson (self-made) 1% (new)
7. Stephen Hawking (self-made) 1% (new)
8. Bill Gates (self-made) 1% (no change)
9. Bill O’reilly (self-made) 1% (up 100%)
10. Benjamin Netanyahu 1% (new)
Most admired women of 2014
1. Hillary Clinton 12% (down 20% from 2013)
2. Oprah Winfrey (self-made) 8% (up 33%)
3. Malala Yousafzai (self-made) 5% (up 150%)
4. Condoleeza Rice (self-made) 4% (up 100%)
5. Michelle Obama 3% (down 40%)
6. Angelina Jolie 2% (up 100%)
7. Sarah Palin (self-made) 2% (down 60%)
8. Princess Kate 2% (up 100%)
9. Elizabeth Warren (self-made) 1% (up 100%)
10. Laura Bush 1% (no change)
In many ways this list is the ultimate measure of power; conventionally defined. Like omnipotent Gods, the people who make this list are worshiped by millions, and not just worshiped by any millions, but worshiped by America; the world’s sole super power. The fact that arguably the most powerful man in the world (the sitting president) has topped the list virtually every year since the list began shows that it correlates strongly with conventional definitions of power.
Ostensibly, the list is measuring popularity, prestige, and status; but in a Democracy, popularity equals power (at least in theory).
Black people are over-represented
A striking fact about the list is that African-Americans are dramatically over-represented. Of the seven Americans on the most admired men list, 29% are considered black, despite the fact that blacks are only 12% of America. Of the eight Americans on the most admired women list, 38% are black. This is not a fluke. Blacks are consistently over-represented on lists of the most worshiped Americans. When the Discovery Channel asked Americans in 2005 to elect the 10 greatest Americans of all time, 20% were black. When a 2001 Harris poll, asked Americans to name anyone (alive or dead) who they considered a hero, about a third of the heroes chosen were black. When the poll was repeated in 2009, president Obama emerged as the most admired hero of all time, with Jesus coming in second!
This is probably isn’t just political correctness and white guilt. In my opinion, the reason blacks do so well in popularity contests is that Africans are more r selected than whites and East Asians, who evolved to be more K selected. r selected Africans evolved via sexual selection to have a high reproduction rate, while K selected whites and East Asians evolved via natural selection (survival of the fittest) to have a high survival rate (and thus didn’t need such a high reproduction rate). In my opinion, this means that Africans evolved to have traits that made them attractive to potential mates like large sex organs (including breasts and buttocks) charisma, rhythm, athleticism and social IQ (all the traits that win popularity contests and enhance social status), while whites evolved traits that were useful for survival (especially in cold climates) like overall intelligence, brain size, technological IQ and family stability.
Because r selected blacks evolved traits that enhance social success, they are very good at acquiring social capital (popularity) but not as good at acquiring resources needed for survival (economic capital). This explains why despite being over-represented among the highest status Americans, they are dramatically underrepresented among the richest Americans. Despite being 12% of America, they are only 0.25% of the Forbes 400. By contrast high tech nerds (who seem very K selected) are dramatically over-represented among the richest Americans, but underrepresented among the most admired and popular Americans.
The only black person rich enough to qualify for the Forbes 400 is Oprah, so not only does the Gallup poll rank her as the most worshiped self-made woman in the World’s sole superpower, and thus perhaps the most powerful self-made woman in the world, but Forbes ranks her as the richest African American of all time. Oprah is one of the rare individuals in history who has been adaptable enough to acquire stratospheric levels of both social capital (popularity) and economic capital (money). I believe this is partly explained by her astonishingly large cranial capacity, which gave her the intelligence to adapt her environment to her advantage, combined with her African genes which gave her the rhythm, charisma, and social IQ to attract a large following.