Whoopi cushion: Pop top

Goldberg tops President Clinton as most recognized face in US

The official religion in America is the Cult of the Celebrity, and movie stars are the high priests.

In its second poll, the People magazine/Yankelovich Pop Monitor Profiles quizzed the man in the street on various individuals in the public eye, including politicians, athletes, singers and fashion designers. Of the 100 celebs who scored the most favorable ratings, an astounding 59 are primarily film actors.

Distant runners-up are TV thesps and musicians, with respective totals of 17 and 15. In the top 100, there are only four athletes and no business/government leaders, broadcast journalists or authors.

Leading the pack is Whoopi Goldberg, who has surpassed President Clinton as the most recognizable face in the country.

In the first sampling, taken in spring 1996, Clinton scored the highest in recognition. But in the second go-round in fall ’96, he’d fallen to fourth. Goldberg — whose appearances range from films to “Star Trek,” “Sesame Street” and Oscar hosting duties — scored 100% recognition, beating out the president (and Mickey Mouse, for that matter, since the survey also polls the public on fictional characters).

In a nationally representative sampling, thousands of Americans (age 16 and older) are polled on the star power of 1,000 famous people. If the respondents can identify a celebrity from a photo, they are then quizzed on 14 attributes of the person, such as whether he or she is trustworthy, hot and fun, and whether the quizee would spend money on a product/service associated with the person.

The data is then broken down demographically by such categories as a respondent’s age, sex and race, with the info available to subscribers.

In both studies, Tom Hanks nabbed the top POPScore, which factors in all the attributes. Like Goldberg, he was among the highest in attractability: The overwhelming majority of those polled agreed they’d attend an event or watch a show in which either one participates.

Comparing the spring and fall ’96 polls, Liv Tyler, Nathan Lane and Bill Pullman made the biggest percentage jumps. A celeb’s shift in position may be attributed to the variance in the respondents to the two surveys, or it may reflect the star’s changing public profile. (For example, the releases of “The Birdcage” and “Independence Day” after the first sampling may account for Lane’s and Pullman’s jumps.)

For everything that rises, something falls, and performers who chalked up the biggest percentage drops between the two samplings were Jenny Jones, Dolly Parton and Michael Jackson.

The public isn’t entirely fickle, however: Eight of the top 10 POPScores are the same for the two surveys. (George Burns was ranked No. 10 for the spring tally, but he was not included on the fall survey, as he died in March 1996.)

Starting with this issue, Daily Variety will run exclusive weekly looks at various aspects of the studies: comparing highs and lows and a few in-betweens in the categories.

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