Many Americans Find Their Heroes in Family Members

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NEW YORK , N.Y. – November 6, 2014 – When the Harris Poll asked American adults to consider the top three people they admire enough to call a hero, of those who answered, three out of ten listed a family member (32%), with 26% specifically referencing parents. Apart from family members, Americans are most likely to consider members of the military (21%); religious figures (including deities) (19%); medical & emergency services personnel (18%); U. S. Presidents (17%); activists/humanitarians (12%); and celebrities (11%) to be their heroes.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,543 U.S. adults surveyed online between September 10 and 17, 2014. All heroes mentioned were named spontaneously. Survey participants were not given a list of people to choose from, nor were they obligated to provide an answer at all.

Family Members

Focusing again on those listing family members as heroes:

  • When broken down by generation, Matures are less likely than Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, or Millennials to indicate a family member (9% vs. 25%, 35%, & 43% respectively) as their hero, and more specifically, a father (2% vs. 15%, 19%, & 21% respectively), or mother (3% vs. 10%, 12%, & 17% respectively) as their hero.
  • While both genders equally consider fathers their heroes (16%), women are twice as likely as men to consider mothers heroes (16% vs. 8% respectively).
  • American adults with children (under 18) in their households are more likely than those without to value family members as their heroes. Almost twice as many adults with children in the house consider their parents role models as compared to those without (38% vs. 21%). In addition, adults with children in their household are at least twice as likely as those without to consider their spouses (11% vs. 4%), children (5% vs. 1%), and grandparents (7% vs. 3%) to be heroes.

Military

After family members, those Americans who listed heroes are most likely to consider Military Service Persons among them (21%).

  • Matures are more likely than any other generation to consider them heroes, while Millennials are the least likely to do the same (35% Matures vs. 25% Baby Boomers & 22% Gen Xers vs. 10% Millennials).
  • There is also an apparent division along political party lines. One in ten Democrats (12%) identify members of the military as heroes, as compared to 22% of Independents and 29% of Republicans.

Religious Figures

Following closely behind military personnel, religious figures are the third most popular type of hero for Americans. Of those who named one or more heroes in this survey, 19% listed a religious figure as their hero, with the highest percentage (14%) specifying Jesus (10%) or God (4%).

  • A little less than one year ago, a Harris Poll revealed that Millennials were less likely than their counterparts in all older generations to express belief in God, though it is worth noting that two-thirds indicated doing so. While Millennials may have been less likely to display a belief in God, the results of this survey show that Millennials are significantly more likely than any other generation to consider God or Jesus to be a hero (20% vs. 12% Gen Xers, 10% Baby Boomers, 10% Matures), and specifically God (7% vs. 2%, 3%. and 1% respectively).
  • Looking again at political parties, Republicans are nearly twice as likely to list a religious figure as one of their heroes compared with either Democrats or Independents (27% vs. 14% Democrats & 17% Independents). Republicans are also more likely than Democrats to name specifically God or Jesus as a hero, with Independents falling in between the two (7% Democrats, 13% Independents, & 22% Republicans).

Individuals as Heroes

When looking strictly at individuals American adults mentioned as heroes, certain people rise to prominence. By a large margin, Jesus holds the top rank on the list of individual heroes, followed by Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama, Martin Luther King Jr., and God. Reagan’s popularity is perhaps not surprising, considering a Harris Poll earlier this year noted, Two in five U.S. adults wish Ronald Reagan… could have had a third term. The rest of the top ten individuals Americans admire enough to consider heroes are Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, George W. Bush, and Pope Francis.

What Makes Someone A Hero?

During the survey, interviewees also read a list of potential reasons for admiring a person as a hero and ranked each as a major reason, minor reason, or not a reason at all.

Over three-fourths (76%) of American adults agree that doing what’s right regardless of personal consequences is the trait that makes a person most worthy of admiration. This is especially true for those who admire members of the military, with 95% considering this a major reason for considering them heroes.

Other reasons that prove to be of major importance to over half the population included:

  • Willingness to risk personal safety to help others (68%)
  • Not giving up until the goal is accomplished (65%)
  • Staying level-headed in a crisis and Doing more than what others people expect of them (64% each)
  • Changing society for the better (63%)
  • Overcoming adversity (61%)
  • Not expecting personal recognition (57%)

At the bottom of this list, less than half (48%) of the population feel that commanding the support and respect of others is a major reason to admire someone, while 32% feel this is a minor reason, and 19% do not consider this to be a reason at all. However, this trait is particularly important to those who admire U.S. Presidents, as 66% of those who mentioned one of our nation’s commander-in-chiefs consider this a major reason to admire someone.

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Table 1a

Rankings of Specific Individual Heroes

And now we’d like to ask you some questions about heroes. First of all, who do you admire enough to call a hero? You can provide up to three answers.

(All mentioned by 1% or more of adults)

Base: U.S. adults with heroes

Rank

Jesus

1

Ronald Reagan

2

Barack Obama

3

Martin Luther King

4

God

5

Abraham Lincoln

6

Mother Teresa

7

Billy Graham

=8

George W. Bush

=8

Pope Francis

10

John F Kennedy

11

Mahatma Gandhi

12

Oprah Winfrey

13

Chesley Sullenberger

14

Nelson Mandela

15

General George S. Patton

16

George Washington

17

Hillary Clinton

18

George HW Bush

19

Malcolm X

20

Bill Gates

21

John McCain

22

John Glenn

23

Pope John Paul

=24

Bill Clinton

=24

Teddy Roosevelt

=24

Rosa Parks

=24

Eleanor Roosevelt

=24

Condoleezza Rice

29

Colin Powell

=30

Neil Armstrong

=30

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

=32

Elizabeth Warren

=32

Warren Buffet

=32

= prior to a number indicates a tie


 

TABLE 1b

Summary of Hero Groupings

And now we’d like to ask you some questions about heroes. First of all, who do you admire enough to call a hero? You can provide up to three answers.

Base: U.S. adults with heroes

 

Total

%

FAMILY MEMBER (NET)

32

PARENT (SUB-NET)

26

Father

16

Mother

12

Parents (unspecified)

2

Husband/Wife

6

Grandparent

4

Child/Son/Daughter

2

Sibling

1

Other relative

2

MILITARY (NET)

21

Military personnel/Servicemen/Servicewomen

18

Military personnel (specified)

3

RELIGIOUS FIGURES (NET)

19

DEITY (SUB-NET)

14

Jesus Christ

10

God

4

Religious figures (specified)

4

Billy Graham

2

Pope Francis

2

Pope John Paul

1

Pope

 

MEDICAL & EMERGENCY SERVICES (NET)

18

Firefighters

13

Policemen/Law enforcement

9

Doctors/Nurses/EMTs/Medical personnel

7

First responders/911 rescue workers

1

US PRESIDENTS (NET)

17

Ronald Reagan

5

Barack Obama (current president)

4

Abraham Lincoln

3

George W. Bush (former president)

2

John F Kennedy

2

George Washington

1

George HW Bush

1

Bill Clinton

1

Teddy Roosevelt

1

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

1

Dwight Eisenhower

 

Jimmy Carter

 

Thomas Jefferson

 

ACTIVIST/HUMANITARIAN (NET)

12

Martin Luther King Jr.

4

Humanitarians/activists

3

Mother Theresa

3

Mahatma Gandhi

2

Nelson Mandela

1

Malcolm X

1

Rosa Parks

1

Malala Yousafzai

 

Celebrity (actor, singer, specified)

11


 

 

 

TABLE 1c

Summary of Family Member Net

By Generation, Gender, and Children in Household

And now we’d like to ask you some questions about heroes. First of all, who do you admire enough to call a hero? You can provide up to three answers.

Base: U.S. adults with heroes

Total

Generation

Gender

Children in Household

Millennials (18-37)

Generation X (38-49)

Baby Boomers (50-68)

Matures (69+)

Male

Female

Yes

No

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

FAMILY MEMBER (NET)

32

43

35

25

9

27

36

47

25

PARENT (SUB-NET)

26

37

29

21

5

24

28

38

21

Father

16

21

19

15

2

16

16

24

13

Mother

12

17

12

10

3

8

16

17

10

Parents (unspecified)

2

4

3

1

1

3

2

3

2

Husband/Wife

6

7

7

5

4

4

7

11

4

Grandparent

4

7

4

2

1

2

5

7

3

Child/Son/Daughter

2

2

4

2

1

2

3

5

1

Sibling

1

2

1

1

 

1

1

1

1

Other relative

2

2

3

2

1

1

3

3

2


 

 

TABLE 1d

Summary of Military Net

By Generation and Party Identification

And now we’d like to ask you some questions about heroes. First of all, who do you admire enough to call a hero? You can provide up to three answers.

Base: U.S. adults with heroes

Total

Generation

Party Identification

Millennials (18-37)

Generation X (38-49)

Baby Boomers (50-68)

Matures (69+)

Republican

Democrat

Independent

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

MILITARY (NET)

21

10

22

25

35

29

12

22

Military personnel/Servicemen/Servicewomen

18

10

19

21

29

24

12

18

Military personnel (specified)

3

 

4

6

6

6

1

4


 

 

 

TABLE 1e

Summary of Religious Figures Net

By Generation and Party Identification

And now we’d like to ask you some questions about heroes. First of all, who do you admire enough to call a hero? You can provide up to three answers.

Base: U.S. adults with heroes

Total

Generation

Party Identification

Millennials (18-37)

Generation X (38-49)

Baby Boomers (50-68)

Matures (69+)

Republican

Democrat

Independent

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

RELIGIOUS FIGURES (NET)

19

22

19

15

18

27

14

17

DEITY (SUB-NET)

14

20

12

10

10

22

7

13

Jesus Christ

10

14

11

7

9

19

3

9

God

4

7

2

3

1

3

4

6

Religious figures

4

5

4

2

2

5

2

4

Billy Graham

2

1

1

3

6

3

2

2

Pope Francis

2

 

4

2

4

2

3

1

Pope John Paul

1

 

2

 

1

 

1

1

Pope

 

1

1

 


 

 

TABLE 2a

Summary Grid of Reasons for Admiring Someone

Thinking about all the people you believe are heroes – either family, friends, or people in public life – please think about the person you most admire. Are the following major, minor or not reasons at all for admiring this person?

Base: U.S. Adults

A major reason

A minor reason

Not a reason at all

%

%

%

Doing what’s right regardless of personal consequences

76

15

9

Willingness to risk personal safety to help others

68

20

12

Not giving up until the goal is accomplished

65

23

12

Staying level-headed in a crisis

64

26

10

Doing more than what other people expect of them

64

24

13

Changing society for the better

63

24

13

Overcoming adversity

61

27

12

Not expecting personal recognition

57

27

16

Commanding the support and respect of others

48

32

19

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding


 

 

TABLE 2b

Summary of A Major Reason for Admiring Someone

By Family Member (Net), Parent (Net), U.S. President (Net), Military (Net), Medical & Emergency Services (Net), Religious Figures (Net), Deity (Net), and Activist/Humanitarian (Net)

Thinking about all the people you believe are heroes – either family, friends, or people in public life – please think about the person you most admire. Are the following major, minor or not reasons at all for admiring this person?

Base: U.S. Adults

Total

Family Member (Net)

Parent (Net)

U.S. President (Net)

Military (Net)

Medical & Emergency Services (Net)

Religious Figures (Net)

Deity (Net)

Activist/Humanitarian (Net)

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Doing what’s right regardless of personal consequences

76

86

85

86

95

89

90

88

89

Willingness to risk personal safety to help others

68

74

73

73

96

89

82

84

81

Not giving up until the goal is accomplished

65

79

77

76

84

79

78

78

85

Staying level-headed in a crisis

64

74

74

80

82

80

67

69

69

Doing more than what other people expect of them

64

76

77

78

77

76

83

81

73

Changing society for the better

63

62

61

75

72

71

79

76

85

Overcoming adversity

61

74

74

69

74

67

76

76

81

Not expecting personal recognition

57

67

68

63

72

68

63

62

65

Commanding the support and respect of others

48

55

54

66

59

47

55

52

47


 

 

Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between September 10 and 17, 2014 among 2,543 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

 

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

 

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll® #101, November 6, 2014

By Hannah Pollack, Harris Poll Research Analyst

About The Harris Poll®

Begun in 1963, The Harris Poll is one of the longest running surveys measuring public opinion in the U.S. and is highly regarded throughout the world. The nationally representative polls, conducted primarily online, measure the knowledge, opinions, behaviors and motivations of the general public. New and trended polls on a wide variety of subjects including politics, the economy, healthcare, foreign affairs, science and technology, sports and entertainment, and lifestyles are published weekly. For more information, or to see other recent polls, visit the Harris Poll News Room.