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Admiration nation: Aussies name their most admired public figures

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source (Australia), Jan 2013- Dec 2013, n= 10,209. Base: Australians 14+ who named at least one public figure. Respondents were asked: ‘Please write down the names of 3 public figures you admire the most’
If you were asked to note down the names of the three public figures you admired the most, who would you pick? A politician? A scientist? A sporting hero? One of each? In this day and age of brawling media tycoons and naughty rugby players, lying MPs and disgraced celebrities, it’s not necessarily an easy task. And funnily enough, the public figure named most often by admiring Australians last year isn’t even Australian. 

Put your hands together for Barack Obama!

In 2013, the US President was named by 12.7% of Australians aged 14+ as one of the public figures they most admire. In fact, of the five people whose names came up most often, only two were Australian: former Prime Ministers Julia Gillard (12.3%) and John Howard (7.7%). Nelson Mandela and the Queen also made the top five.

Australia’s most admired public figures, 2013

Australia's Most Admired Public Figures 2013

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source (Australia), Jan 2013- Dec 2013, n= 10,209. Base: Australians 14+ who named at least one public figure. Respondents were asked: ‘Please write down the names of 3 public figures you admire the most’

The gender perspective

There was a fairly even gender split among President Obama’s admirers, with 48.6% being women and 51.4% being men. Among former South African President Nelson Mandela’s admirers, the female-male breakdown was similarly close (54.4% women; 45.6% men).

In contrast, women named Julia Gillard and the Queen almost twice as often as men did, while men were far more likely than women to name former PM John Howard as one of their most admired public figures.

Further down the list, but still among Australia’s 10 most admired public figures, current PM Tony Abbott was more than twice as popular among men as women, and former Governor General Quentin Bryce was named by more than twice as many women as men.

The generation* gap in action

Of course, a person’s age influences the type of public figure they most admire. Generations Y and Z are far more likely to admire President Obama than Pre-Boomers, for example. Tony Abbott’s admirers, meanwhile, are dramatically more likely to be from the Pre-Boomer generation, as are those who named the Queen.

The chart below shows how likely, or unlikely, each generation is to admire President Obama (top half of chart) or Queen Elizabeth (bottom half).

Barack Obama, the Queen of England and the generations that admire them

Barack Obama, the Queen of England and the Generations that admire themThis chart shows the index of the target profile group compared to the population average, with 100 being the average. Source: Roy Morgan Single Source (Australia), January 2013- December 2013, n= 10,209. Base: Australians 14+ who named at least one public figure.

While all generations are more likely admire politicians than any other category, younger Australians tend to rate entertainment and sporting identities among their most admired public figures more often than older members of the population.

But just who are these admired entertainers and sports stars? Stay tuned for our next release, Hugh, Oprah, Ellen or Gough? Australia’s most admired, part 2.

Michele Levine, CEO, Roy Morgan Research, says:

“Throughout the year, as part of its Product Poll, Roy Morgan Research asks Australians to name three public figures they admire the most. Last year revealed some fascinating, sometimes surprising results — one of which is the enduring popularity of former PM John Howard, some six years after he was voted out.

“What’s more, despite the fact that State MPs and Federal MPs are among the least trusted professions in Australia, politicians are widely admired by Australians of all ages, with 64.7% naming at least one. Tellingly, although last year’s key players (Gillard, Abbott, former Liberal Party Leader Malcolm Turnbull, and former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd) all made the Top 10, Barack Obama and Nelson Mandela generally out-ranked them.

“But one has to wonder: are politicians so widely admired simply because they’re so omnipresent and unavoidable in Australian public life, compared to other ‘quieter achievers’? 

“At any rate, these findings dispute the cliché that Australians revere sporting heroes above all others. The most admired sportsperson, cricketer Michael Clarke, staggered in at 52nd. But more about that in our next release…”

* Roy Morgan ‘Generations’ definitions: Pre-Boomers — Pre 1946; Baby Boomers — 1946-1960; Generation X — 1961-1975; Generation Y — 1976-1990; Generation Z — 1991-2005.

For comments or more information please contact:

Michele Levine
CEO, Roy Morgan Research
Office: +61 (3) 9224 5215

Related research findings

View our extensive range of social research, including the latest State of the Nation report. Roy Morgan’s State of the Nation Reports provide a long-term perspective on Australian society, measuring a broad range of issues affecting the nation, plotting them over time, and exploring in more detail the impacts on Society, Technology, Economy, Politics and the Environment.

About Roy Morgan Research

Roy Morgan Research is the largest independent Australian research company, with offices in each state of Australia, as well as in New Zealand, the United States and the United Kingdom. A full service research organisation specialising in omnibus and syndicated data, Roy Morgan Research has over 70 years’ experience in collecting objective, independent information on consumers.

In Australia, Roy Morgan Research is considered to be the authoritative source of information on financial behaviour, readership, voting intentions and consumer confidence. Roy Morgan Research is a specialist in recontact customised surveys which provide invaluable and effective qualitative and quantitative information regarding customers and target markets.

Margin of Error

The margin of error to be allowed for in any estimate depends mainly on the number of interviews on which it is based. Margin of error gives indications of the likely range within which estimates would be 95% likely to fall, expressed as the number of percentage points above or below the actual estimate. Allowance for design effects (such as stratification and weighting) should be made as appropriate.

Sample Size

Percentage Estimate


25% or 75%

10% or 90%

5% or 95%