A New Poll on Michelle Obama and Motherhood

Michelle Obama likes to call herself the "mom in chief." Images abound of the first lady frolicking on the White House swing set with Malia and Sasha. Basically, you'd have to be living under a rock not to know that Michelle is a mama. Yet when people were asked in a recent Pew Research poll to pick one word to describe her, only seven out of the 765 surveyed used the word "mother." (The most common was "classy.") In a similar 2001 poll, 24 out of 1,212 described Laura Bush as a mother—a slightly higher ratio—even though her daughters were in college.

So why isn't Michelle's motherhood tag sticking? "She is such a dynamic and powerful woman," says Carol Evans, CEO of Working Mother Media, "that her being a mom is not popping out as her first trait." Perhaps the polling quirk, though, says less about Obama and more about stereotypes of moms as supportive but behind-the-scenes players. Whereas "motherly" Laura Bush cultivated a quiet, retiring image, says E. Ann Kaplan, a cultural-studies professor at Stony Brook University, Michelle plays second fiddle to no one, including her husband. And why should she? According to the Pew poll, the first lady is now more popular than he is.