Tim Tebow is America’s favorite pro athlete…with 3% of the vote!

The fact that Tim Tebow is America’s favorite pro athlete may be a great headline but it covers up the fact that very few people actually selected him:

How big is Tebow-mania? According to the ESPN Sports Poll, Tim Tebow is now America’s favorite active pro athlete.

The poll, calculated monthly, had the Denver Broncos quarterback ranked atop the list for the month of December. In the 18 years of the ESPN Sports Poll only 11 different athletes — a list that includes Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and LeBron James — have been No. 1 in the monthly polling.

In December’s poll, Tebow was picked by 3 percent of those surveyed as their favorite active pro athlete. That put him ahead of Kobe Bryant (2 percent), Aaron Rodgers (1.9 percent), Peyton Manning (1.8 percent) and Tom Brady (1.5 percent) in the top-five of the results.

The poll results were gathered from 1,502 interviews from a nationally representative sample of Americans ages 12 and older.

Tebow is the favorite and he was selected by 3% of the respondents? This is not a lot. While it is meaningful that he was selected so early in his career says something but we need some more data to think through this. What percent have previous favorite athletes gotten? Have previous iterations of this poll had larger gaps between the favorite and second-place? Are responses to this poll more diverse now than in the past?

I wonder about the validity of such questions that ask Americans to pick a favorite as they can garner low totals. Isn’t Tebow’s advantage over Bryant easily within the margin of error of the survey? The issues here are even greater than a recent poll asking about favorite Presidents. If you are a marketer, does this result clearly tell you that you should have Tebow sell your product?

Some quick history of the ESPN Sports Poll.

Two issues with Most Admired poll: a large gap between #1 and others, low numbers for #1

While it is interesting to note that sitting presidents tend to lead in Gallup’s “Most Admired Lists,” two other things immediately struck me when looking at the tables:

1. There is a relatively big gap between #1 for most admired man and woman and everyone else. This year, President Obama is at 17% and his next closest competitor is at 3% while Hillary Clinton is also at 17% and her next competitor is at 7%. Since Gallup asks this as an open-ended question (exact phrasing: “What man that you have heard or read about, living today in any part of the world, do you admire most? And who is your second choice?”), it suggests that people name famous people, particularly types who are likely to be in the news a lot and whose positions are notable. If this is the case, is this really a survey about who is most admired or more about who is most well-known?

2. The leaders in each category are only at 17% and their competitors are quite a ways back. This could lead to several suggestions. Perhaps Americans don’t think in these terms much. For men, 32% said none or had no opinion and for women, 29% said none or had no opinion. Additionally, when asked about men 9% said a friend or relative and 12% said the same when asked about women. Even the current President is only most admired by 17%, suggesting that Americans are not necessarily looking to admire their political leaders. Another possible explanation might be that there is a wide range of admirable famous people in the United States. For men, the top 10 only account for 31% of responses though the top 10 females account for 47% of responses. This might reflect the lesser number of women in positions of power or leadership so more attention is focused on a select few.

This leads me to think that this poll may not really not tell us much about anything. Those selected as admired have relatively low figures, certain positions in society lead to being selected, and there are clear leaders but then also a mass of closely-admired figures.

UPDATE 12/28/11 10:11 PM – There seems to be similar variability in a recent poll that asked Americans which celebrity they most wanted to live next door. Also:

The majority of surveyed adults (42 percent) said they did not want to live next to any celebrities. “As a voyeuristic culture that breathlessly tracks every celebrity movement, it’s extremely surprising to see so many Americans saying they wouldn’t like to live next to any celebrity at all,” said Zillow Chief Marketing Officer Amy Bohutinsky. “In fact, more people opted out of a celebrity neighbor in 2012 than in any of the past years we’ve run this poll.”

Perhaps Americans are more tired of famous people this year?