Special Report

Most Admired People of the Year

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Who are the most admired men and women of the year? To answer that question, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the most recent survey data from two of the most widely cited admiration polls, YouGov and Gallup. Because these survey data were collected at the end of 2018, we exercised editorial discretion to take into account events in 2019, removing some names and adding others.

It is important to note that some of the world’s most admired individuals are not admired by all. U.S. President Donald Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who all made this list, enjoy enormous influence, support, and admiration, but they also have their detractors. The three leaders have been widely criticized, and large populations of people — both within their nations and around the world — disapprove of them.

Not all admired people stand at the head of their nations. Other most admired people on the list are politicians, actors, celebrities, entrepreneurs, sports figures, activists, jurists, and monarchs.

It will come as no surprise that, while polarizing politically and not liked by many in the United States, Barack and Michelle Obama are on the list and have been mainstays on most-admired lists since the Obamas occupied the White House in 2017. They remain in the public eye through speaking engagements and books they’ve authored. Obama, at age 58, will likely keep public profile for many years. Here are America’s five youngest presidents.

Actors such as Amitabh Bachchan from India and Emma Watson of Harry Potter fame have leveraged their celebrity to help improve the lives of the poor and empower women. Entrepreneur-turned philanthropist Bill Gates continues to raise health standards in impoverished nations through his foundation. 

At 86, Ruth Bader Ginsburg continues to burnish her progressive legacy on the Supreme Court despite a host of physical challenges, and 93-year-old Queen Elizabeth II maintains a busy schedule as Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, now at 67 years. At the other end of the age spectrum, Greta Thunberg at 16-years-old is sounding the alarm over climate change, while Malala Yousafzai, the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize at age 17, continues to champion education for girls. These are 40 of history’s greatest women.

Click here to see the most admired people of the year

Source: Jack Taylor / Getty Images

Bill Gates
> Title/Job: Co-founder of Microsoft Corporation, investor, and philanthropist

Bill Gates is the co-founder of Microsoft Corp. and and trustee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the biggest private charitable foundation in the world. The foundation focuses on improving the health of people all over the world. Gates, whose net worth is about $107 billion, has donated almost $36 billion to the foundation.

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Source: Paul Morigi / Getty Images

Michelle Obama
> Title/Job: Former first lady

Michelle Obama has topped most-admired lists since she became first lady in 2009. Obama’s status as a most admired person was further enhanced following the publication of her best-selling memoir titled “Becoming” in 2018.

Source: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Barack Obama
> Title/Job: Former U.S. president

The nation’s 44th president has kept a low profile since leaving office in 2017, writing books and accepting highly paid speaking engagements. Though he has occasionally criticized President Donald Trump, Obama, a Democrat, recently raised concerns about his party’s shift to the left, which he thinks will hurt its chances in the 2020 election.

While he remains a widely admired figure around the world, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate has also been criticized by people across the political spectrum for such policies as dialing up drone use in Pakistan, increasing deportations of illegal immigrants, and raising government spending.

Source: Paras Griffin / Getty Images

Oprah Winfrey
> Title/Job: Former talk-show host, activist

Oprah Winfrey leveraged her fame as talk-show host into political activism, campaigning for Barack Obama in 2008 and Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams in 2018. In January of 2018, Winfrey became the first African American woman to receive the Golden Globes’ Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement. She used the platform to advocate for empowering women and the importance of free speech. Her address was so well-received that it was suggested she should run for president in 2020.

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Source: Ulet Ifansasti / Getty Images

Jackie Chan
> Title/Job: Actor, film producer/director

Jackie Chan has parlayed his martial arts skills, comedic instincts, and onscreen charisma to create an enduring film career. In 2016, the Hong Kong native became the first Chinese actor to receive an honorary Academy Award, which recognized his “distinctive international career.” At 65, Chan remains busy. He had three films released this year and has two more movies scheduled to come out in 2020. Aside from his film career, Chan has been a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF and supported causes such as those for the humane treatment of animals, conservation, and disaster relief.

Source: Ververidis Vasilis / Shutterstock.com

Angelina Jolie
> Title/Job: Actress, activist

The Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie was named a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees goodwill ambassador in 2001. Jolie, who has adopted children from Cambodia, Ethiopia and Vietnam, respectively, uses her celebrity status to draw attention to the concerns of displaced people and advocates for their protection.

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Source: Pool / Getty Images

Xi Jinping
> Title/Job: President of China

As is the case for many people on this list, what has earned China President Xi Jingping great admiration in some circles has also brought him condemnation in others. The 66-year-old leader of the world’s most populous nation has presided over the spectacular growth of the planet’s second-biggest economy after the United States. Early in his presidency, Xi Jingping launched in 2013 China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, a modern day Silk Road that is a massive infrastructure project stretching from East Asia to Europe.

Admiration for Xi Jingping by people around the world is tied to his enormous influence, which he is likely to continue wielding. Term limits for Chinese presidents and vice presidents were abolished in March 2018.

Xi has been criticized for China’s heavy-handed crackdown on protesters in Hong Kong. The protests were triggered in June by a bill that would permit extradition from Hong Kong to the mainland. Since then, Chinese troop presence has more than doubled in Hong Kong.

Source: WPA Pool / Getty Images

Queen Elizabeth II
> Title/Job: Sovereign of Great Britain

The 93-year-old sovereign of Great Britain has served longer than any monarch in British history, 67 years. Elizabeth is known for her devotion to duty and is much loved by the British people ever since she worked as a truck driver during World War II.

Source: Lintao Zhang / Getty Images

Jack Ma
> Title/Job: Chinese business magnate and co-founder of Alibaba Group

Chinese businessman Jack Ma has built Alibaba Group into an e-commerce powerhouse. Ma, who is stepping down as executive chairman of Alibaba in September, has a net worth of nearly $41 billion.

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Source: Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

Emma Watson
> Title/Job: Actress

British actress Emma Watson gained recognition among American audiences for her role as the brainy heroine Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movies. Watson will appear in director Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Louis May Alcott’s novel “Little Women” that is scheduled for release in late December.

Off camera, Watson was appointed UN Women Goodwill Ambassador in July 2014, and she devotes her efforts to empowering young women and promoting gender equality.

Source: Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Narendra Modi
> Title/Job: Prime minister of India

Narendra Modi was first elected prime minister of India in 2014 on a platform of improving the nation’s transportation infrastructure and opening up the country to direct foreign investment. Modi has championed Hindu culture, which some criticized as exclusionary toward Muslims, especially in the province of Kashmir, which has a Muslim majority. Modi launched a campaign to improve sanitary conditions in rural areas of India, though some of his methods have been criticized as heavy-handed with government workers using coercive means on the local populace to follow the program.

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Source: Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

Malala Yousafzai
> Title/Job: Activist, Nobel Peace winner

Malala Yousafzai’s outspoken advocacy for female education led to an assassiation attempt — Taliban gunmen shot her in the head in October 2012. She survived, and after months of recovery, the following July she addressed the United Nations.

Her autobiography “I Am Malala” was published a year after she was attacked, and she became the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2014 at the age of 17 for advocating for educating young women.

Source: Michael Regan / Getty Images

Cristiano Ronaldo
> Title/Job: Soccer player for Portugal national team

In much of the world, he is simply known as “Ronaldo” and is one of the greatest soccer players of all time. The Portuguese star joined Juventus in 2018 in a deal that will pay him $64 million a year over four years. After the deal was announced, the Italian soccer club sold 520,000 Juventus jerseys with his name on them in 24 hours. The 34-year-old’s acclaim extends to social media, where he has nearly 400 million followers.

Source: Pool / Getty Images

Peng Liyuan
> Title/Job: Chinese singer, wife of Xi Jinping

Peng Liyuan is a Chinese folk music and opera singer who is also the wife of China’s president, Xi Jinping. Peng has been one of the more high-profile Chinese first ladies. She is proficient in English and is known for her work with children who have HIV/AIDS and supports education in the rural areas of China as well as educating women. Peng said earlier this year that China wants to play a more important role in helping the World Health Organization achieve its sustainable goals on health by 2030.

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Source: Neilson Barnard / Getty Images

Dalai Lama
> Title/Job: Buddhist monk and spiritual leader of Tibet

Tenzin Gyatso is the 14th Dalai Lama, and he has been an outspoken advocate for Tibetan autonomy and foe of Chinese aggression. He was forced into exile under pressure from China in 1959. He has been a staunch advocate for better understanding and respect among the different faiths of the world, promoting messages of responsibility, love, compassion and kindness. For his efforts, the Dalai Lama received the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize.

Source: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Hillary Clinton
> Title/Job: Former first lady, senator, presidential candidate

Hillary Clinton has her many admirers, while her detractors are legion. After serving as first lady during President Bill Clinton’s tenure, Hillary Clinton became the first former first lady to win public office when she became senator from New York. Clinton also served as secretary of state under President Barack Obama, and then became the first woman to run as a major party candidate for president of the United States. Clinton has not discounted the possibility of running for president in 2020.

Although before the 2016 election the FBI cleared Clinton over her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state, many Americans believe questions remain unanswered in regard to that controversy.

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Source: Alex Caparros / Getty Images

Lionel Messi
> Title/Job: Soccer player for Argentina national team

Lionel Messi has been the face of the Barcelona soccer club, which he joined in 2003, and together they have won 34 championships. Messi played his 700th game for Barcelona in November. His contract with the club runs through 2020-21 and pays him $80 million a year. Messi also has a lifelong agreement with Adidas. He was the captain of Argentina’s World Cup team in 2014 and 2018 and has played in four World Cup events.

Tu Youyou
> Title/Job: Chinese scientist

Tu Youyou became the first Chinese scientist to win a Nobel Prize Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2015. She won for her work in treating malaria. Tu devoted herself to the field of medicine after she contracted tuberculosis when she was a teenager.

Source: WPA Pool / Getty Images

Vladimir Putin
> Title/Job: President of Russia

Vladimir Putin has been the president of Russia since 2012. Putin’s current term ends in 2024, and the Russian constitution would prevent him from seeking another term. As head of the world’s largest nation by land area, Putin has been a controversial figure. He is very popular at home because of his attempt at restoring Russia to past glory. The former KGB officer has used force and skill to impose stability on Russia, which had been somewhat chaotic after the fall of communism.

Russia’s seizure of Crimea and incursion into Ukraine, as well as the agreement with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to expel Kurdish forces from northern Syria, not to mention its meddling in America’s election, have been disquieting developments during the Putin presidency.

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Source: Emma McIntyre / Getty Images

Taylor Swift
> Title/Job: Singer, songwriter

Singer/songwriter Taylor Swift will become the first recipient of Billboard’s Woman of the Decade Award later this month. Swift has had five No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 and five chart-topping singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart this decade. She is also being cited for her commitment to protecting creative rights, music education, disaster relief, and the Time’s Up movement against sexual harassment.

Source: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Warren Buffett
> Title/Job: Private investor, philanthropist

America’s most famous private investor, the “Oracle of Omaha” has said he plans to give away 99% of his wealth, which is valued at $87.2 billion. Warren Buffett donated $3.6 billion in 2019, much of it to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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Source: Win McNamee / Getty Images

Madonna
> Title/Job: Singer, activist

The Material Girl has been disrupting the status quo since the 1980s, when she became one of the world’s biggest pop stars. Madonna was an early advocate for equality for LGBTQ people and is an outspoken advocate for women’s rights.

Source: Gareth Cattermole / Getty Images

Amitabh Bachchan
> Title/Job: Indian film actor, former politician

Amitabh Bachchan, 77, is one of the best known and most beloved Indian film actors. He’s used his wealth and fame to improve the lives of his Indian compatriots. On more than one occasion he has paid the debts of farmers, supplied money for medical centers, and provided funding for solar power for private homes. Bachchan has been involved in a polio eradication campaign in India and has supported tiger conservation.

Source: Pool / Getty Images

Angela Merkel
> Title/Job: Chancellor of Germany

Angela Merkel is the first female chancellor of Germany, elected to that office four times since 2005. She has faced difficult decisions involving the high debt of EU members such as Greece and the migrant crisis earlier this decade. Her handling of the immigrant issue, in which thousands of Syrian refugees were admitted into Germany for humanitarian reasons, angered German citizens, and her popularity in Germany declined.Still, Merkel is admired for her leadership. She was named Time magazine Person of the Year in 2011 and was also awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom the same year. In 2018, Merkel announced that she would step down as chancellor in 2021 amid setbacks to her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

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Source: Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images

Elon Musk
> Title/Job: Entrepreneur

Elon Musk is known as a visionary entrepreneur and engineer. He currently leads rocket and spacecraft company SpaceX and electric car and energy company Tesla. Earlier this year, Musk’s SpaceX launched a rocket that deployed 60 satellites to provide broadband across much of the world. He unveiled last month an all-electric Tesla cybertruck that will compete with Ford’s vaunted F series truck.

Musk raised eyebrows in 2018 with what some dismissed as a stunt by offering a submarine to assist the rescue of a boys soccer team stranded in a cave in Thailand. He also courted trouble with regulators because of his April Fool’s Day tweet that Tesla had gone bankrupt — the tweet sank the company’s shares.

Source: Alex Wong / Getty Images

Greta Thunberg
> Title/Job: Climate change activist

Sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg of Sweden stepped on to the world stage this year as an outspoken environmental and climate-change activist and became the youngest Time Person of the Year for 2019. She was invited to speak at the U.N. Climate Action Summit in September 2019, and crossed the Atlantic on a zero-emissions yacht, with her father and crew. After arriving in New York, Thunberg spoke at a massive climate action event before speaking at the U.N., an occasion that was marked by her frank tone about the future of the planet.

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Source: Pool / Getty Images

Donald Trump
> Title/Job: U.S. president

Despite facing impeachment inquiries, sexual assault accusations, and other infamies, President Donald Trump’s approval rating among Republicans stands at 86%, according to a Gallup poll, and it has never fallen below 79%. Among Democrats, Trump is seen in quite a different light. Only 7% of Democrats approve of the president, and his approval rating among Democrats has never been more than 12%.

Source: Andreas Rentz / Getty Images

Priyanka Chopra
> Title/Job: Actress, humanitarian

Crowned Miss World in 2000, Priyanka Chopra became a Bollywood actress and singer beginning in 2002. American audiences came to know her from her appearance on the FBI-themed series “Quantico.” Priyanka is a global UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for Child Rights, and UNICEF plans to honor her this month with its Danny Kaye Humanitarian Award for her work in promoting environmentalism, health and education, and women’s rights.

Source: Lisa Maree Williams / Getty Images

Pope Francis
> Title/Job: Leader of Catholic Church

The 82-year-old pontiff is the first Jesuit pope and the first from the Americas (he’s from Argentina). The leader of the 1.2 billion Catholics has spoken out vigorously against income inequality and is concerned about the impact of climate change. His trip to Japan in November was the first papal visit to that country in 38 years. While visiting Nagasaki, one of the cities destroyed by an atomic bomb in World War II, Pope Francis spoke out against the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

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Source: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

Ruth Bader Ginsburg
> Title/Job: Supreme Court justice

At 86, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the oldest Supreme Court justice, and one of its most resilient. She has battled lung, pancreatic, and colorectal cancer, has a stent in her heart, and bounced back after being hospitalized with broken ribs. Ginsburg, who has become something of a folk hero, is affectionately called “Notorious R.B.G” — a play on the late rapper Notorious B.I.G. nickname. She has been the subject of the book “Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg” and the biographical movie “On the Basis of Sex” based on her early legal cases.

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