Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics

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Analysis of Al Gore’s Lackluster Poll Numbers

Aubrey Immelman
Saint John’s University

August 1999

Should Gore become his party’s nominee in 2000, personal style will play a pivotal role in what I regard as the vice president’s personality-based unelectability in our contemporary television-dominated, public-relations oriented electoral process. Indeed, the albatross of the scandal-plagued Clinton presidency, the China fundraising connection, the vice president’s own "dialing-for-dollars" woes, and the April 29, 1996 fiasco at the Hsi Lai Buddhist temple in Hacienda Heights will prove to be the least of Al Gore’s troubles in 2000.

    The public perception of Gore as "boring" captures the essence of the image that Al Gore’s underlying personality dynamics must inevitable project upon the public mind—and in our modern-day "made for media" presidential elections, perception is reality. On psychological grounds, the perception of Gore as boring can be attributed to the two dominant themes in his underlying character structure revealed in my (Immelman, 1998) personality assessment: conscientiousness and introversion.

    In the highly salient psychological domain of expressive behavior (see Millon, 1996, pp. 513-514), conscientious personalities display an air of austerity and serious-mindedness and exhibit a certain postural tightness; their movements are typically deliberate and dignified and they display a tendency to speak precisely, with clear diction and well-phrased sentences. Emotions are constrained by a regulated, highly structured, carefully organized lifestyle. Their clothing is characteristically formal or proper, and restrained in color and style. While perhaps admirable on objective grounds, the personal qualities of conscientious personalities are not well suited to firing up contemporary public imagination.

    The foregoing conscientious propensities are greatly exacerbated by coexistent introversive qualities, as is the case with Al Gore. According to Millon (1996, pp. 230-231), highly introverted personalities are expressively impassive; they tend to be stoical, stolid, or detached. They display deficient expressiveness across a broad range of psychological domains—physically, behaviorally, and emotionally—and are characteristically restrained. They may be perceived as passive and lacking in enthusiasm, initiative, or vigor. Publicly, they display a lack of spontaneity—an unanimated, if not "robotic," quality. Physical movement may be languid, lumbering, or lacking in rhythm, and speech tends to be slow, monotonous, and deficient in affective expressiveness. These personalities rarely "perk up" or respond animatedly to the feelings of others, which may be mistakenly perceived as a lack of kindness or compassion. Being underresponsive to stimulation, they are neither quickly provoked to anger nor easily humored, and rarely report feelings of anger or anxiety, sadness or joy.

    Unlike the extraverted, outgoing Bill Clinton, Al Gore is not prone to being energized by adulating crowds. This social reserve and emotional distance is publicly perceived as a lack of empathy and social indifference, which elicits—and this is key to making sense of Gore’s lackluster poll numbers—a reciprocal reaction in others.


Immelman, A. (1998, July). The political personality of U.S. vice president Al Gore. Paper presented at the Twenty-First Annual Scientific Meeting of the International Society of Political Psychology, Montréal, Québec.

Millon, T. (1996). Disorders of personality: DSM-IV and beyond (2nd ed.). New York: Wiley.

Page maintained by Aubrey Immelman, USPP director and Suzanne Wetzel, USPP contributor

Last updated April 16, 2000