Opinion: What a match-up! America’s new most-admired women -- Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton

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At the end of the 21st century’s first decade, Americans have decided on the women they admire the most -- and their picks might surprise some. (Although probably not if they’re looking at these photos.)

One is a woman who once lived in the White House -- Hillary Rodham Clinton. And the other is a woman suspected of harboring ambitions of living there someday -- Sarah Palin.

A Democrat and a Republican. A former senator and a former governor. Two polarizing politicians, both moms, both bestselling authors, both lost their bids for one of the nation’s top elected offices last year.


Are American voters dropping a hint here? According to a new survey just released by USA Today and the Gallup Poll, the 62-year-old Clinton barely beat out the 45-year-old Palin as the most admired female -- 16% to 15% in a poll of 1,025 adult Americans.

However, because the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points, it’s statistically a P-C draw. The survey was ...

... open-ended, meaning men and women respondents had to provide the names by themselves.

Not that public admiration necessarily translates to votes. But the results have to set off any political spectator’s eager imagination about a future presidential ballot match-up between the pair who, though politically polar opposites, are both outspoken, both often underestimated and both beloved by their respective bases.

Clinton’s 17 straight years as most- or second-most-admired woman is unprecedented since Gallup began asking the question in 1948 (when presidential daughter Margaret Truman and then-Princess, now Queen Elizabeth II were in the top 10.)

Clinton first headed the list in 1993 as the new first lady in the White House.

And she remained highly admired as first lady throughout the public and private turmoils of her husband’s two terms, then as a senator from New York and now as the nation’s 67th secretary of State, only the third woman to hold the post.

All this despite -- or actually perhaps because of -- her brutal, toe-to-toe, sometimes bitter Democratic presidential primary contests against Barack Obama in 2008.

Palin, on the other hand, burst onto the national political scene -- and this year’s list -- thanks to Sen. John McCain plucking her from the political obscurity of the Alaskan permafrost as his 2008 running mate and the first woman on a presidential ticket of the party of Lincoln.

The latest new first lady, Michelle Obama, trailed on this year’s most-admired-women list.

She ended up back at No. 4. As The Ticket reported here Monday, in a separate poll, Mrs. Obama is also mirroring her husband’s plunge in approval ratings. From November to December, her approval numbers dropped seven points, down to 55, still higher than the president’s.


(On the other hand, the favorable ratings of the equally unemployed Palin have risen into the 40s now.)

Just ahead of Mrs. O in the poll’s third place was another Illinois African American female, who helped get the Obamas into the White House: the billionaire businesswoman and TV talker Oprah Winfrey.

Predictably, among admired males, the incumbent president easily tops the list as usual. This year, he was followed by, less predictably, his immediate predecessor, Republican ex-President George W. Bush, and then by former South African leader Nelson Mandela.

Someone named Glenn Beck -- completely unknown to us here in the predictably liberal, MSNBC-watching and indubitably elite media -- is the No. 4 most-admired male, despite -- or perhaps because of -- his 1950s haircut.

Pope Benedict XVI is fifth and the Rev. Billy Graham is No. 6, putting him in the top 10 most admired males for the 54th consecutive year. The Rev. Al Sharpton did not make the top 10 cut. Neither did David Letterman.

However, just squeaking into the top 10 males most admired by Americans is Democratic ex-President Bill Clinton. Well, actually, he tied for 10th place with the notorious cellphone texter Tiger Woods.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo credits: Reuters, Associated Press.