Republican presidential nominee John McCain has spent months positioning himself as the heir to Ronald Reagan’s conservative movement. Recent poll data, however, show that his Democratic opponent perhaps better embodies some of Reagan’s key personality traits.
The personality profile yielded by the MIDC was analyzed on the basis of interpretive guidelines provided in the MIDC and Millon Index of Personality Styles manuals. Sen. Obama’s primary personality patterns were found to be Ambitious/confident and Accommodating/cooperative, with secondary features of the Outgoing/congenial pattern.
The combination of Ambitious, Accommodating, and Outgoing patterns in Obama’s profile suggests a confident conciliator personality composite. Leaders with this personality prototype, though self-assured and ambitious, are characteristically gracious, considerate, and benevolent. They are energetic, charming, and agreeable, with a special knack for settling differences, favoring mediation and compromise over force or coercion as a strategy for resolving conflict. They are driven primarily by a need for achievement and also have strong affiliation needs, but a low need for power.
The major implication of the study is that it offers an empirically based personological framework for anticipating Obama’s likely leadership style as chief executive, thereby providing a basis for inferring the character and tenor of a prospective Obama presidency.
Using a standard assessment procedure developed at the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, we generated a personality profile for Sen. Obama. The profile reveals that Obama’s most prominent personal attributes are confidence, assertiveness, and congeniality.
In office, the behavior of confident, ambitious leaders like Obama is characteristically shaped by four core qualities: power, pragmatism, ideology, and self-validation. As persons with a strong belief in their talents and leadership ability, power is an important driver for their leadership behavior and they favor pragmatism as a way of ensuring their own success. Because of extraordinary confidence in their own ideas and potential for success, they are strongly motivated by ideology and a desire to transform society. Finally, their high-self-esteem stimulates a corresponding need for affirmation, resulting in a quest for personal validation.
Ambitious, goal directed
Ambitious, confident leaders like Obama are more goal- than process oriented. This implies that their own advancement and success is more important to them than compromise or maintaining good relations with colleagues.
By the same token, they also are more likely to act as advocates for their own policy vision than as consensus builders or arbitrators. However, because of their pragmatic nature, they will act in a cooperative or harmonious manner when they see it as furthering their self-interest.
Obama’s combination of confidence, assertiveness, and congeniality fits the profile of a charismatic leader; he is ambitious, dominant, and outgoing, which enables him to advance a personal vision, inspire followers, and connect with people.
The outgoing pattern in Obama’s personality profile, a quality he shares with presidents Clinton and George W. Bush, Gov. Mike Huckabee, and Sen. John McCain – yet notably absent in Sen. Clinton – may be key to his meteoric rise to prominence and electoral success thus far in the 2008 election cycle. Ironically, in view of President Clinton’s “roll the dice” comment noted above, Obama shares more of Bill Clinton’s charismatic personality traits than any of the top-tier candidates in either party.
He will be a tough candidate to beat. In fact, Obama’s greatest obstacle may not be whether he has the right personal qualities or the requisite experience to lead, but the readiness of America to elect an African-American to the highest office in the nation.
The personality profile yielded by the MIDC was analyzed on the basis of interpretive guidelines provided in the MIDC and Millon Index of Personality Styles manuals. Sen. McCain’s primary personality pattern was found to be Dauntless/dissenting, with secondary features of the Outgoing/gregarious and Dominant/controlling patterns.
The combination of Dauntless and Outgoing patterns in McCain’s profile suggests a risk-taking adventurer personality composite. Leaders with this personality prototype are characteristically bold, fearless, sensation seeking, and driven by a need to prove their mettle.
McCain’s major personality strengths in a leadership role are the important personality-based political skills of independence, persuasiveness, and courage, coupled with a socially responsive, outgoing tendency that can be instrumental in connecting with critical constituencies for mobilizing support and implementing policy initiatives. His major personality-based limitation is a predisposition to impulsiveness, one manifestation of which is a deficit of emotional restraint.
Sen. John McCain’s personality-based leadership strengths include:
- the important personality-based political skills of independence, persuasiveness, and courage;
- a socially responsive, outgoing tendency that enables him to connect with people;
- skills and talents that can be employed to mobilize support and implement his policies; and
- a dauntless, confident orientation conducive to the cut and thrust of political life and potentially useful in crisis situations.
Sen. John McCain’s personality-based leadership limitations include:
- impulsiveness and lack of emotional restraint;
- a tendency to make unguarded, imprudent remarks that may undermine his political capital;
- a rebellious nature, accompanied by intolerance of delay or frustration and low thresholds for emotional discharge, particularly anger and hostility;
- a potential for taking unnecessary risks and failing to plan ahead.
First and foremost it must be pointed out that, as with all personality patterns, the outgoing pattern occurs on a continuum ranging from normal to maladaptive. At the well-adjusted pole are warm, congenial personalities. Slightly exaggerated outgoing features occur in sociable, gregarious personalities such as Bill Clinton. And in its most deeply ingrained, inflexible form, extraversion manifests itself in impulsive, self-centered, overdramatizing, histrionic behavior patterns that may be consistent with a clinical diagnosis of histrionic personality disorder. In a nutshell, then, this is the essence of the outgoing personality pattern:
- Characteristic behavior. Outgoing personalities are typically friendly and engaging. In more intense form these personalities are livewire, animated bon vivants. In its most extreme, often maladaptive form, histrionic personalities are flamboyant, self-dramatizing thrill-seekers with a penchant for momentary excitements, fleeting adventures, and shortsighted, hedonistic self-indulgence. As leaders they tend to lack “gravitas” and may be prone to scandal, predisposed to reckless, imprudent behaviors, with a penchant for spur-of-the-moment decisions without carefully considering alternatives.
- Personal relations. Outgoing personalities are demonstrative, amiable, and display their feelings openly-anger included. In more extreme form, gregarious individuals may be shallow, superficial attention-seekers highly attentive to popular appeal. Finally, the full-blown histrionic is likely to be flirtatious and seductively exhibitionistic, actively manipulating others to solicit praise, approval, or attention. In a political leadership role, these traits translate into a strong need for validation, one manifestation of which may be an overreliance on polls as an instrument of policy formulation.
- Mindset. Outgoing personalities are not paragons of deep thinking or self-reflection; they typically avoid introspective thought, focusing, instead, on external matters. In its more crystallized form, this personality style is exemplified by a superficial, often “thoughtless” mode. Finally, in their most distilled form, histrionic personalities are poor integrators of experience; they are slow to learn from their mistakes. Politically speaking, this tendency may result in scattered learning, poor judgment, and flawed decision-making.
- Temperament Temperament refers primarily to activity level and the character and intensity of emotional experience. Outgoing personalities are emotionally expressive, responsive, spirited, and lively. People with more exaggerated variants of the outgoing pattern may be overexcitable and moody, with frequent-though short-lived-emotional displays. In its most maladaptive form, the histrionic personality is impetuous, mercurial, and capricious, being easily enthused and as readily angered or bored. Leaders with this personality pattern are skilled at staying in touch with the mood of the people but also prone-as at least one observer in the Clinton White House has put it-to periodic “purple rages.”
- Self-image Outgoing personalities are confident in their social abilities, typically viewing themselves as affable and well liked. In stronger doses, extraversion translates into a charming sense of self. In its most distilled form, the histrionic’s self-perception has a hedonistic character, epitomized by a self-indulgent image of attracting acquaintances through pursuit of a busy, pleasure-oriented lifestyle. In politics, outgoing personalities, more than any other character types, are political animals strongly attracted to the lure of campaigning; they thrive on the validation of self offered by adulating crowds and the frenetic, connect-with-people activity on the rope line.
- Self-regulation. The preferred stress-management strategy of outgoing personalities is to engage in self-distracting, mindless activities, often in the form of games or physical diversions. In maladaptive form, histrionic personalities employ the defense mechanism of dissociation (or so-called “compartmentalization”) to cope with conflict and anxiety. The political implications of dissociation include a leader’s failure to face up to unpleasant, dissonant thoughts, feelings, and actions and facile, complemented by cosmetic image-making as revealed in a succession of socially attractive but changing facades.
I conclude this analysis with the caveat that my initial assessment of John McCain’s personality, based on his autobiography and other materials in the public domain, departs from the analysis of McCain’s naval examiners. In my opinion, the outgoing pattern is of secondary significance in McCain’s overall character structure. Of greater primacy is a dauntless, dissenting personality pattern, which McCain shares with Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura and, to a lesser extent, George W. Bush.
As a parting thought-lest we come too quickly to conclusions concerning John McCain’s character-consider this: With the exception of Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter, outgoing candidates have prevailed in every presidential contest since Franklin D. Roosevelt.
McCain’s primary personality pattern was found to be Dauntless/dissenting, with secondary features of the Outgoing/gregarious and Dominant/controlling patterns. Giuliani’s primary personality pattern was found to be Dominant/aggressive, with secondary features of the Conscientious/dutiful and Ambitious/confident patterns. The combination of Dauntless and Outgoing patterns in McCain’s profile suggests a risk-taking adventurer personality composite. Leaders with this personality prototype are characteristically bold, fearless, sensation seeking, and driven by a need to prove their mettle. The combination of Dominant and Conscientious patterns in Giuliani’s profile suggests an aggressive enforcer personality composite. Leaders with this personality prototype are tough, uncompromising, and believe they have a moral duty to punish and control those who deviate from socially sanctioned norms. McCain’s major personality strengths in a leadership role are the important personality-based political skills of independence, persuasiveness, and courage, coupled with a socially responsive, outgoing tendency that can be instrumental in connecting with critical constituencies for mobilizing support and implementing policy initiatives. His major personality-based limitation is a predisposition to impulsiveness, one manifestation of which is a deficit of emotional restraint.
Twenty-seven percent of American voters claim they choose presidential candidates primarily on the basis of the nominee’s character and moral values, according to a poll conducted after the 2000 elections. However, candidates with a solid character–straightforward, dutiful and disciplined–often run into trouble being an effective president, says Steven J. Rubenzer, PhD, a Houston-based clinical psychologist and co-founder of the Foundation for the Study of Personality in History. In fact, a tendency to tell the truth can actually harm a president’s shot at being considered historically “great,” he says.
Those presidents who received high marks from historians tended to be smart, have ambitious goals and be willing to bend the truth, according to results published in Rubenzer’s new book–co-authored with retired clinical psychologist Tom Faschingbauer, PhD–“Personality, Character & Leadership in the White House: Psychologists Assess the Presidents” (Brassey’s, 2004). And these findings converge with previous research by political psychologists such as Dean Simonton, PhD, at the University of California, Davis, who finds that intelligence, as measured by a combination of personal achievements, analysis of a president’s interests and scores on the personality measure openness to experience, predicts presidential success above all other individual factors.
“Openness overlaps with intelligence because to some degree you have to be intelligent to appreciate new experiences,” explains Simonton. “People who are low in intelligence, their systems are overwhelmed by the very rich environments that are attractive to people who are open to new experiences.”
However, the personality factors that increase candidates’ chances for success in office are not necessarily the same as those that help them get elected, psychologists say. For example, intellectual brilliance seems negatively related to a president’s margin of victory, finds Simonton.
“The ones who are the most intellectually brilliant are often barely elected,” he says. “They have trouble speaking in sound bites and communicating with the public.”
While intelligence can make for a good president but a bad candidate, achievement-striving–or the tendency to work toward lofty goals–may benefit presidents both on the campaign trail and while in office.
“Achievement-striving means people have high goals, but more importantly, they work hard to achieve them,” says Rubenzer. “They stay focused; they are kind of workaholics.”
In contrast, research by psychologist David Winter, PhD, at the University of Michigan, finds that achievement motivation, defined as a drive to do things well, may be a hindrance for presidents in office.
“People high in achievement motivation do best when they have large amounts of personal control,” says Winter. “They become frustrated by the bureaucracy of politics.”
Indeed, in Rubenzer’s personality analysis Carter, who historians note as stymied by the checks and balances of the presidency, scored very high on achievement-striving–in the top 1 percent of all former presidents. However, Carter had two fatal personality flaws: a lack of assertiveness and a tendency to be straightforward, notes the psychologist.
“A president has to influence, either by deceit or forcefulness,” says Rubenzer. “When you see those two scores on someone who is otherwise so qualified you think, well, maybe that is the reason.”
Results of the research indicate that great presidents, besides being stubborn and disagreeable, are more extraverted, open to experience, assertive, achievement striving, excitement seeking and more open to fantasy, aesthetics, feelings, actions, ideas and values. Historically great presidents were low on straightforwardness, vulnerability and order.
It may come as no surprise that the research shows that most modern presidents are clearly extraverts. However, the data indicates that the early presidents scored below average on this factor. Does that mean that presidents are becoming more extraverted, or that the entire population has become more extraverted? The researchers say their data can’t answer that question, but “given the increasing role of the media in presidential elections, the more plausible explanation is that the change is limited to the presidents and not the general population.”
|The ability to lie and deceive is an important quality for success in the White House, and presidents who are less straightforward typically make better presidents.|
|Despite his recent popularity and reputation for integrity, John Adams’s personality closely resembled Richard Nixon’s.|
|Presidents are much more Extraverted today than in the past and less intellectually curious than in the past. They may also be lower in character.|
|Jimmy Carter is the only modern president that much resembles Founding Fathers Jefferson and Madison and the greatest president of the 19th century, Abe Lincoln. Eisenhower is the only modern president much like Washington.|
|Franklin Roosevelt seems to be the template for modern presidents, with recent presidents showing high (Kennedy, Clinton) or moderate (LBJ) similarity to him. Reagan resembled his as well.|
|Modern Democratic presidents tend to be very Extraverted, achievement-oriented, ebullient, and sympathetic to the poor, but are willing to deceive and relatively unprincipled.|
|Modern Republican presidents tend to be less sympathetic to the less fortunate and much more inclined to rely on traditional sources of moral authority than average Americans.|
|George W. Bush appears to have fewer traits related to presidential success than most presidents. He most resembles Andrew Jackson and Ronald Reagan.|
Types of Presidents
What is the Right Stuff to be a Successful President?Using our data, Professor Deniz Ones of the University of Minnesota identified the following personality factors as predictors of presidential success:
Rated Intelligence – Intelligence is related to success in almost any complicated job, from CEO to NFL quarterback. Although we did not have intelligence test scores, we did ask our raters how intelligent, inventive, insightful, complex, and wise they perceived the various presidents to be. Those that received high ratings, like Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Wilson, performed better than those who are rated as less gifted, like Harding.
Assertiveness, or dominance, is the capacity to influence through one’s presence and ideas. It is the single most important trait to presidential success. Presidents are an assertive group, and on the average score higher than eight of ten typical Americans. Better presidents like the Roosevelts, Wilson, and Jackson score higher than average chief executives. Truman was the only successful president who was less assertive than his peers. Low scorers include Harding, Taft, and Coolidge.
Positive Emotions – A president’s optimism and enthusiasm are important for performance on the job, but also for getting elected. Enthusiastic and high spirited presidents like the Roosevelts, Clinton, and Kennedy are typically more successful; low scorers are reserved and serious, like J. Q. Adams, Hoover, and Nixon. Washington was the only truly successful low scorer on this scale.
Activity Level – Highly energetic chief executives like TR, LBJ, and Carter tend to be rated higher on this scale by historians than more placid characters like Grant, Taft, and Coolidge.
Achievement striving (having high goals and working towards them in a systematic and focused manner) is an obvious asset and is related to success in most all walks of life apart from the arts. Two of the lowest scorers, Grant and Harding, are widely regarded as presidential failures. High scorers include a number of undisputed “greats” like Teddy Roosevelt, Wilson, and Washington, but also more ambiguous performers such as Carter, Nixon, and LBJ.
Low Straightforwardness – Historians tell us that a president’s credibility is essential to the ability to lead. Yet, the tendency and ability to deceive is correlated with historians’ ratings of presidential success. Great presidents, such as Lincoln and FDR, have tended to bend the truth more than a little. Both managed to be both a moral leader and an artful politician. Grant and Fillmore were more honest, but also less effective.
Tender-Mindedness (concern for the less fortunate) predicts both presidential success and ethical behavior on the job. FDR and Lincoln scored high on this quality, while Buchanan and Nixon scored low.
Competence – High scorers on this scale seek appropriate information when faced with a decision, have good judgment, and are broadly capable – like Washington and Eisenhower. Low scores include the lowest ranked presidents Harding and Grant, but also the impetuous and successful Andrew Jackson.
Low Vulnerability – Presidents who feel unnerved by stress and unable to cope with problems on their own (score high on Vulnerability) are likely to be given low marks by historians. Emotionally hardy presidents, like Washington and Teddy Roosevelt, tend to do better than more Vulnerable chief executives, like Harding and the Adams’s.
These are the only traits that have been empirically shown to have a distinct and unique relation to presidential success. “Character” was unrelated to historians’ rating of presidential greatness.
Dimensions of personality according to James David Barber in The Pulse of Politics (New York: W.W. Norton, 1980).
1) Activity or Passivity
How much energy does a president invest in his presidency?
2) Positiveness or Negativeness toward the job of president
Does the president enjoy his job? Does he enjoy exercising power? Does the job make him sad or discouraged?
*These dimensions are closely related to dimensions of dominance/submissiveness, extroversion/introversion, and optimism/pessimism.
Types of Personality
1. Active positive
A president who spends a lot of energy and enjoys his job. This type of president tends to have high self-esteem. He tends to be productive in pushing programs through. He is flexible enough to try something else when his plans are stymied. He wants results.
FDR, Harry Truman, John Kennedy, George Bush (The first Bush presidency)
2. Active negative
A president who spends a lot of energy but does not enjoy his job. This type tends to have low self-esteem. Expands his energy compulsively to compensate for some shortcoming or to prove to others that he is a person to be reckoned with, Seeks and tries to retain power. Is rigid when stymied. He wants to get and keep power.
Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover, Lyndon Johnson
3. Passive positive
A president who does not spend much energy but nevertheless likes the job. Tends to have low self-esteem and compensates for this by seeking affection instead of power. He does this by being agreeable and cooperative rather than assertive. He wants affection.
William Howard Taft, Warren Harding, Ronald Reagan
4. Passive negative
A president who does not spend much energy and does not like the job. He becomes president because he thinks he should, out of a sense of service to the country. He wants the grim satisfaction of doing his duty.
Calvin Coolidge, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon
NTPs tend towards independent more than towards either party but tend towards Republican slightly more than Democrat.
STJs tend towards Republican more than Democrat but tend towards Democrat more than independent.
ENFs tend to be equally distributed between Republican and Democrat.
Republicans preferred INTJ, ENTJ, ESTJ, and ISTJ (the executive types). The ESTJs are more than twice as likely as the INFPs and INFJs to be Republicans.
Democrats were typically NF or INFJ. In fact, those people with a preference for Feeling are more likely than other types to identify themselves as Democrats.
- Artisans are about 10% more likely to be registered as Democrats than as Republicans or Independents. They are the least likely to actually vote in an election.
- Guardians are about 10% more likely to identify themselves as Republicans than as Democrats, and are the least likely of the temperaments to be Independents or apolitical. They are also the most likely to vote.
- Idealists are 17% more likely to be Democrats than Independents, and 34% more likely Democrats than Republicans.
- Rationals are the most likely to identify themselves as Independents or apolitical. For those that are party members, they are 45% more likely to be Democrats than Republicans.
|–||Apolitical||Dem||Rep||Lib||Ind||Green||Likely to vote|
Percentages of political affiliation amongst types.
“SJs were overrepresented in persons reporting very conservative political views, and Ns were overrepresented in persons reporting very liberal political views (ENTJs excepted).”
FFM Openness to experience factor correlates to Intuition.
Type is correlated with party affiliation but not party registration.
STJ – Conservative
NFP – Liberal Inuitives show more interest in politics.
Introversion (and Sensation) correlated to a sense of political alienation.
Thinking correlated with being for the death penalty.
Perceiving correlated with being pro-choice about abortion.
|ESTP – Persuader||ESFP – Entertainer||ISTP – Craftsman||ISFP – Artist|
|James Buchanan||Ronald Reagan||Zachary Taylor||Millard Fillmore|
|Bill Clinton||Ulysses S. Grant|
|ENFJ – Mentor||ENFP – Advocate||INFJ – Confidant||INFP – Dreamer|
|Martin Van Buren|
|Elections Since 1960|
John McCain is the Republican Party’s secret weapon in this election, should they decide to nominate the most electable (of the 4 I’ve looked at so far, that is) of their candidates. Why is McCain the most electable, even though he is languishing well behind the front-runners in most primary polls?
Simple. McCain is the only Artisan in the bunch. Of the major Republican candidates, McCain has been the most straight forward to figure. You get what you see – he really doesn’t seem to have any hidden agenda. Like most STP Artisans (think Donald Trump or General George Patton), he is a man “in the moment”, not prone to introspection or giving careful thought before reacting to circumstances.
While McCain’s Artisan traits have not endeared him to the largely Guardian Republican base who decide the the primaries, they make him a winner with the independents who actually decide the November election. Remember, these voters are not strongly focused on issues, but on how much they “like” the candidate. In fact, in both personalityZone’s surveys and CNN’s head-to-head polls, McCain is consistently the strongest of the Republican candidates against each of the Democratic front runners. More than 100 years of consistent voter behavior in choosing Artisans in the November elections is still true today.
Like Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney, Obama is a Rational, most likely an INTJ Mastermind. This comes through in his communication style – he has an exceptional ability to paint a vision, to communicate abstract pictures of the future that make sense to people, and his utilitarian approach to action – looking for what “works” rather than “what’s been done before” or “what is ‘right'”.
While he is not an Artisan, his ability to connect with people is almost as strong, giving him the best ability outside the true Artisan candidates for garnering the uncommitted voters needed to win in November.
Hillary Clinton – ESTJ
Barack Obama – ENFP
John McCain – ESTP
Obama’s mistake is that he confuses being phlegmatic with being presidential. Hippocrates, the father of medical science, devised a system of grading personalities in the fifth-century B.C. that has never been more relevant. He described those with phlegmatic temperaments as harmonious, calm, easygoing, and diplomatic – precisely the traits that the current campaign coverage suggests we should want in any occupant of the Oval Office.
McCain, by contrast, is what Hippocrates would call choleric. Cholerics are passionate, decisive, opinionated, stubborn, and driven. To paraphrase one notable choleric, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (largely regarded as a great president), there is nothing cholerics love so much as a good fight. McCain’s temperament is, in part, what enabled him to survive imprisonment and torture at the hands of the Viet Cong.
Liberals will fret that the impulsive, passionate McCain has a temperament ill-suited for a president, yet it is those defining characteristics of the choleric – zeal, decisiveness, perseverance, a certainty of opinion on fundamental matters of right and wrong and on our core national values – that make McCain the better choice for the office. Not to lose one’s temper in the face of evil is actually dysfunctional and in certain cases downright dangerous. The real question is, then, not whether McCain has a temper (he most certainly does), but why Obama doesn’t and whether that matters.
Well, it does matter. The affable Obama is less-suited for the office because of his tendency to equanimity. The inclination to avoid confrontation and seek consensus, though admirable, are not the principal traits we should want in the person on whose desk the buck stops. The desire for everyone to get along too often leads to acquiescence and compromise, and a failure to do what is necessary in time of crisis (think of the indecisive Jimmy Carter and his mishandling of the Iran hostage crisis). That is not to say that dispassion and diplomacy have no place. They do, but you probably want them in a secretary of State, not the denizen of the Oval Office.
Political Leadership for the New Century
By Linda O. Valenty, Ofer Feldman