ADMIRATION…. I’m starting to think Americans actually like Barack Obama.

A month before his inauguration, Americans choose Barack Obama as the man they admire most in the world, according to a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll. It’s the first time a president-elect has topped the annual survey in more than a half-century.

President Bush falls to a distant second after seven years as the most-admired man. […]

The findings, a snapshot of public opinion at the end of a tumultuous year, reflect soaring expectations for an incoming president who will take over daunting economic challenges on Jan. 20.

“Things are down so much at the end of 2008 and the end of Bush’s administration … and Obama represents a new beginning and some hope and anticipation that things can get better,” says James McPherson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and editor of ‘To the Best of My Ability:’ The American Presidents.

All told, one-third of Americans listed Obama as their first or second choice for most-admired man. In the history of the survey, which dates back to 1948, the only man to do better was Bush’s 39% rating in 2001, just three months after the attacks of Sept. 11.

The last president-elect to top the survey was Dwight Eisenhower in 1952.

Obama’s strong showing also comes the same week as a CNN poll showing his pre-inaugural approval rating at a whopping 82%.

As I said the other day, all of this can change after Obama actually takes office and starts governing. But as Republicans plot strategy on how to oppose and obstruct the next president’s policy agenda, they may want to remember that Obama will enter the White House with a very deep well of public support.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.