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Barack versus Michelle: The popularity contest

He’s more powerful; she’s more popular. He sells millions of books he’s written; she sells millions of magazines she’s posed for. He gets more Internet clicks — except when she does. There are plenty of ways to score a theoretical Barack vs. Michelle celebrity smackdown.
/ Source: The Associated Press

He's more powerful; she's more popular.

He sells millions of books he's written; she sells millions of magazines she's posed for.

He gets more Internet clicks — except when she does.

There are plenty of ways to score a theoretical Barack vs. Michelle celebrity smackdown.

But if one is to engage in this just-for-fun dissection of the phenomobama, it must be stipulated that Barack is the president, which does give him certain advantages.

Then again, Michelle has the fashion factor working for her. And motherhood. And those sculpted arms. And, she doesn't have to tackle sticky issues like cutting the federal budget.

Taken together, the Obamas represent an almost irresistible package for celebrity-fixated Americans.

"This is in some ways like medicine coated with candy," says Jake Halpern, author of "Fame Junkies: The Hidden Truth Behind America's Favorite Addiction." "It allows people to get their celebrity fix and still feel like they're engaging and learning something about civic life."

So how do Barack and Michelle measure up against one another?

You like me!This round goes to Michelle — for now, at least.

Her favorability ratings trailed his in public opinion polls throughout 2008, but lately she's had the lead.

In a trio of recent polls, Michelle's favorability ratings beat Barack's 73-69, 67-54 and 76-72.

But Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center, which conducted one of the surveys, cautions: "Don't make too much of the popularity gap at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."

He says it's not unusual for a first lady to be more popular than the president, since the spouses often can more easily steer clear of controversy.

Still, Michelle's steady rise in the polls over the past year represents a nice recovery for the first lady, who had a rocky time of it after critics seized on her remark in February 2008, during the thick of the presidential primaries, that she was proud of her country "for the first time in my adult life."

Money versus beautyThe president's two best-selling books brought in about $2.5 million in royalties last year.

That helped propel him to No. 49 on the Forbes Celebrity 100 Power List, right between George Clooney and rapper 50 Cent. (Angelina Jolie ranked first.)

Obama is the first sitting president to make the list, which is based on celebrities' earnings and mentions in the media.

Michelle didn't make the cut.

Then again, she made People magazine's "100 most beautiful people" list. He didn't.

They both turned up on Time's 100 "most influential people" list.

Cover girlMichelle Obama sells magazines: She's been splashed across the cover of Vogue, People, O magazine, Time and more.

"She's a solid seller," says Larry Hackett, People's managing editor.

A February issue of People with Michelle on the cover sold 1.36 million copies. January's "inauguration special," whose front had the Obamas dancing together at an inaugural ball, sold 1.6 million.

Hackett says there's big interest in the Obamas — but maybe not as big as the hype might suggest.

The Obamas "are relatively more fascinating and interesting, but it's not by some crazy factor," Hackett says.

Barack has had his own cover spreads — he was on the front of Men's Vogue in 2006 and 2008, and fronted Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, Esquire and GQ last year, too.

And it's Barack — not Michelle — who's had a swimsuit edition: Washingtonian splashed a photo of a shirtless Obama in his swimsuit on the cover of its May issue.

The headline declared: "Our new neighbor is hot."

Final sales numbers aren't in yet, but "so far, it's selling really well," said Beth Sara Widger, circulation manager for Washingtonian.

Barack has been a best-selling subject for a number of newsmagazines. But his image doesn't guarantee huge sales.

In May, the first issue of the redesigned Newsweek, with a close-up of Obama on the cover, was no barn burner, according to preliminary, unaudited figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

At times, magazine editors' enthusiasm for all things Obama seems to run away with itself.

The teaser headline on the cover of the June/July issue of the Conde Nast men's magazine Details: "Can President Obama Make You Better in Bed?"

No comparable headline for Michelle. Yet.

Brains versus class"Intelligent" is the single word that most often comes to mind when people think of Barack Obama, according to a Pew survey conducted in April. That was followed by "good" and "socialist."

For Michelle, the words most often volunteered were "classy" and "nice."

"Intelligent" was not far behind, though.

Click magnetBarack is the click magnet — one online measurement company says he's been the subject of about twice as many Internet searches as his wife so far this year.

But Michelle dominates the click picture from time to time.

In each of the past four months, there were some weeks when she generated more searches than he did, according to Hitwise, an online measurement company.

Among the top search terms paired with Michelle Obama: fashion, garden, style, "in the news," sneakers, bio and "touching the queen" (after her touchy-feely encounter with Queen Elizabeth in April).

Among the top search terms paired with Barack Obama: biography, Israel, news, jokes, stimulus package, birth certificate (related to those persistent but unfounded rumors that Obama is not a natural-born citizen and thus ineligible to be president).

To put things in perspective, though, both Obamas were far overshadowed in recent weeks by searches related to Oprah Winfrey, Miley Cyrus and Britney Spears, according to Hitwise, which analyzes Web sites visited by 10 million people who use certain Internet service providers.

While selling the Obamas is easier than selling other politicians, says People's Hackett, "they're still in politics, and that comes with some baggage."