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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Who Is More Admired -- Glenn Beck or Pope Benedict?

It’s always gratifying to see esteemed journalists and commentators refer to Gallup poll results. Case in point is The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, who led his Sunday column thusly: “It's official: Americans admire Glenn Beck more than they admire the pope.” Milbank’s conclusion is based on the annual Gallup poll of Most Admired Men.

However, I’m not sure this is the best interpretation of our Gallup data.

There are a number of ways to measure admiration. The poll to which Milbank refers is based on an open-ended question: “What man that you have heard or read about, living today in any part of the world, do you admire most?” Another technique would be to read a list of names and ask Americans whether they admire each. Or, one could read a list of names and ask Americans to pick the one person on the list they admire most.

Each method has its uses. The open-ended method for our Most Admired results is based on a historic Gallup precedent. We first asked the question in this format in 1948. The question basically measures top-of-mind brand awareness. The brand in this case being an admired person. Being high on this list indicates that one's name generates a positive reaction and is also highly salient. (By salient I mean in the front part of people’s consciousness.)

Given the large number of names volunteered in response to our question, those on the list don’t have to be admired and salient to a very large group of people. Concentration of salient admiration means more than widely dispersed admiration.

Glenn Beck appears on the Top 10 Most Admired list because he has top-of-mind salience/admiration within a concentrated segment of society. The pope also appears on the list. But the concentration of Americans who have him at the top of their minds when they answer the question is slightly smaller (see below for a discussion of what I mean by "slightly").

I don’t think these methodological facts of life allow one to conclude that “Americans admire Glenn Beck more than they admire the pope,” as in Milbank's column. It would be better to say: "Slightly more Americans spontaneously think of Glenn Beck than think of the pope when asked to name a man that they most admire."

Milbank's phraseology implies that Americans were asked to make a direct comparison between the two men and that Beck won. Or that all Americans rated their admiration for both men and that Beck came out higher. We, in fact, did neither.

If we did ask about each of these two individuals separately, it’s a reasonable hypothesis that the pope would have a higher “admired” factor than Beck.

Why? Because Beck appears to have a low name ID. Pew Research recently found that 40% of Americans knew who Beck is. By contrast, a Gallup poll in 2008 found that 78% of Americans knew enough about Pope Benedict to have an opinion of him. Most of those opinions of the pope were positive (63% favorable; 15% unfavorable). Favorable opinions are different than “admired,” but it’s reasonable that the majority of those with knowledge of the pope would say they admired him. The theoretical maximum admiration percentage for Beck would be 40% (i.e., if everyone who knows him admires him). It’s almost certain that some who know Beck (e.g., Democrats and liberals) don’t admire him. Hence, Beck’s admiration rating would probably be much lower than 40%.

The same thing would hold if we asked Americans to choose which of these two they most admire. Given such a forced choice, and the fact that the pope’s name ID is about twice that of Beck’s, I don’t think the results would likely tilt in Beck’s direction.

There is a second key point in reference to Milbank’s statement.

There is no statistical difference between the frequency with which Beck is named and the frequency with which the pope is named. The percentage of Americans who mention Beck and the pope each rounds to 2%. We do note in our story that we list individuals “ranked according to total mentions.” Which is probably what Milbank picked up on. Beck is mentioned by 22 people (out of the 1,025 interviewed) as the man they most admired. The pope is mentioned by 21 people. As you might imagine, there is no statistical difference, between getting 22 mentions and 21 mentions (again, even though we do put them in rank order).

Billy Graham and Bill Gates get 19 and 17 mentions, respectively. They too are within the same statistical range as Beck and the pope.

So, broadly speaking, Beck is a part of a group of men who are mentioned as most admired by roughly the same percentage of Americans. (The top vote getter in the poll, Barack Obama, is mentioned by 305 individuals. George W. Bush, who comes in second, is mentioned by 44 individuals.) We probably could have made this clearer in the story.

I would point out that Milbank’s interpretation of the data is in part a function of the way we ask and report the question, which in turn is a function of our decades-old tradition, as noted.

When Gallup conducted the research for the People's Choice Awards a number of years ago, we used a two-stage process. We first asked the open-ended questions "What was your favorite movie of the year?" "Who is your favorite movie actress?" and so forth. To determine the winners, we then took the top vote getters and called a second sample and read them the list, asking them to choose among them. We've talked about doing the same with our admiration rankings. But to date we have decided to stick with our traditional practice. We certainly do our best in our write-up of the results to point out exactly how we ask the question and to be cautious in the interpretation of the results.

Regardless of the exact number of mentions, is an indication of the success of Beck’s personal brand positioning strategy that 22 people mention him spontaneously as the man living anywhere in the world they most admire. This suggests that for these 22 individuals, Beck’s positions and statements and on-air persona have touched a highly responsive chord. Beck is also no doubt pleased that he is more likely to be mentioned that others within his competitive set such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and so forth.


philogratis said...
January 6, 2010 at 8:55 PM  

This article says 78% of Americans knew enough about Pope Benedict to have an opinion. I am positive this is wrong. Most people know nothing about Benedict, but just have an opinion about popes, and generally consider popes to be saintly, or at least inoffensive.

I would be astonished if even 25% of Americans knew what country Benedict was from, or what his theology was. From a media perspective, the pope is virtually invisible in America.

Anonymous said...
January 31, 2010 at 2:20 PM  


I'd go further, I doubt that 25% of people living in the US know the Pope's name.

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