Hillary Clinton was the most admired woman for the 16th consecutive year, but she barely clung to that title in 2009 when Sarah Palin nearly defeated her.
This was the second time Obama had bested a sitting President, but that hinges on a technicality, because although not President in 2008, Obama was the President-elect when the poll was conducted!
Gallup has been conducting the most-admired poll since just after WW2, and the sitting president has been the choice 58 times out of 71. Seven sitting Presidents failed to top the poll at least once: Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush and Donald Trump; but all of them won at least one other year except poor ol' Jerry Ford (and now Trump, who will have more chances).
- Bush and Trump each lost once to Obama, as noted and qualified above.
- Carter lost once to Pope John Paul II.
- Ford (twice) and Nixon (once) lost to Henry Kissinger.
- LBJ lost to an elderly Dwight Eisenhower two years in a row. Ike died the following year.
- Harry Truman lost three times, all to his bitter rival, General Douglas MacArthur.
The only time Americans have chosen a foreigner as their "most admired" was 1980, when the Polish Pope took it.
(Yeah, I know that Kissinger was born in Germany, that his real first name was Heinz, and that he speaks with a comic opera accent, but he's an American who fought against Germany in WW2. His Jewish family fled the Nazis in the 1930s; Heinz became Henry; he became a citizen in 1943; and he served as a draftee with the U.S. Army during the war. He later hung with the Rockefellers, and received all of his undergraduate and graduate degrees from Harvard. Those are some pretty toney American credentials. Looking back on his tarnished reputation, however, it's difficult to imagine that he was the most admired man in the country for three years running. I guess it's because his Presidential competition was weak: Richard Nixon in his period of disgrace, and then the inconsequential Jerry Ford. I suppose many people believed that Kissinger was the de facto President and was actually pulling the strings in the White House during the Ford years. That seems appropriate for a man whose subject of greatest scholarly expertise was Metternich.)