Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics
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Why Al Gore Will Not Be Elected President in 2000
Saint Johns University
Paper prepared for a special session of the
on "Understanding the Impact of Impeachment"
New York, N.Y.
March 6, 1999
Unlike President Clinton, Vice President Al Gore possesses well-consolidated character integrity; however, its outward expression in discernable personality traits does not augur well for his candidacy in an era where political campaigns are governed by saturation television coverage and the boundaries between leadership and celebrity have become increasingly blurred. Our civic values are increasingly being shaped by entertainment industry standards, and personalityparticularly charisma and an ability to "connect with voters"have come to eclipse other, more important attributes of presidential candidates, including character, integrity, and leadership skills and talents. It is for this reason that I predict that Al Gore will not be elected president of the United States in 2000provided the Republicans field an outgoing, relatively extraverted, charismatic candidate.
In support of this contention, I excerpt from the abstract of my 1998 study of Al Gore, following which I offer my "worst-case" scenario for a prospective Gore presidency, as formulated at the June 1998 meeting of the International Society of Political Psychology. I conclude with some observations on emerging electoral trends framed as personality effects in the context of the growing impact of television on election outcomes.
Al Gores Personality Profile
Working from the conceptual perspective of Theodore Millons (1994, 1996) model of personality, I found Vice President Gore to be primarily Conscientious/dutiful and Introverted/aloof. A dimensional reconceptualization of the results to examine convergences among my Millon-based findings and Dean Keith Simontons dimensions of presidential style (which replicates the five-factor model of personality), reveals that Gore is highly deliberative (conscientious), somewhat lacking in interpersonality (agreeableness), and low in charisma (extraversion). In terms of Stanley Renshons elements of character, Gores profile suggests that his ambition is rooted in a sense of duty; that his character integrity is well consolidated; and that his interpersonal relatedness is marked more by detachment than by a tendency to move toward, away from, or against others.
Al Gores major personality strengths are his conscientiousness and his low susceptibility to ethical transgression. His major personality-based limitations with reference to presidential performance are deficits in the important political skills of interpersonality, charisma, and spontaneity, and his self-defeating propensity, for tenaciously pursuing a favored policy or dogmatically advancing some central principle despite legislative or public disapproval.
A Personality-Based Assessment of Political Risks
In the unlikely event that Vice President Gore succeeds Bill Clinton as president, my tentative "worst-case" prediction is that, by virtue of the moralistically conscientious features in his profile, he may be inclined, like Woodrow Wilson, to relentlessly advance a defining policy or program in which he has a vested interest (e.g., the environment, government efficiency, or the high-tech industry). Such single-minded, dogged determination incurs the risk of alienating some constituencies and diverting inordinate energy, attention, and resources from other endeavors, tasks, and duties.
The prominence of the introverted component in his personality style could further erode his support if a President Gore were to withdraw to the Oval Office and disregard the important presidential tasks of coalition building and public relations.
Regarding the risk of scandal, there will be none of consequence that personally involves the president. Respectful, dutiful, conscientious personalities are much too scrupulous in matters of morality and ethics; in fact, like Woodrow Wilson, they run the risk of being overly moralistic, if not condescending. Finally, Al Gores introversion, in stark contrast to the narcissistic-outgoing pattern exemplified by President Clinton, is associated with meager affective and erotic needs, which attenuates the risk for sexual misconducteven without factoring in the potentiating effect of the principled scruples of the conscientious character. Finally, the preponderance of conscientious features in Gores profile suggests that he is unlikely to be a highly imaginative, visionary president, or a transformational leader.
Polls Versus Personality and Electoral Trends
The 2000 election is too distant to attach great significance to polls, which fluctuate with the vagaries of the moment and offer only a snapshot in time. (At this early stage of the campaign, Al Gore is lagging behind likely Republican contenders.) Poll numbers change, but ingrained personality traits do not. Thus, if voters currently find George W. Bushs personal qualities more appealing than Al Gores, they will probably also find himor an even more appealing candidate yet to emergemore attractive in November 2000, irrespective of how well Gore may manage to define himself or his policies. What, then, can we learn from an analysis of long-term electoral trends, framed as personality effects? Factor-analytic studies have shown that the extraversion-introversion dimension is the most salient personality attribute with reference to impression formation. Furthermore, extraversion is a major element in interpersonality, charisma, personal charm, and warmth.
Research by Rubenzer, Faschingbauer, and Ones (1996; see table) support the following inferences with reference to the relationship between extraversion and electoral success:
Twentieth-Century Presidents in Descending Order
of Relative Extraversion
(Adapted from Rubenzer, Faschingbauer, & Ones, 1996)
|Theodore Roosevelt||2.28||1||Extravert ++|
|Franklin D. Roosevelt||1.78||2||Extravert +|
|Bill Clinton||1.38||3||Extravert +|
|John F. Kennedy||1.27||4||Extravert +|
|Lyndon B. Johnson||1.23||6||Extravert +|
|Warren Harding||0.30||11||Extravert -|
|Dwight D. Eisenhower||0.25||12||Extravert -|
|Woodrow Wilson||0.14||16||Extravert -|
|George Bush||0.06||18||Extravert -|
|Jimmy Carter||-0.04||22||Introvert -|
|Gerald Ford||-0.05||23||Introvert -|
|William Taft||-0.16||26||Introvert -|
|Richard M. Nixon||-1.01||37||Introvert +|
|Herbert Hoover||-1.43||40||Introvert +|
|Calvin Coolidge||-2.27||41||Introvert ++|
Personality and Public Perception
As I noted earlier, one of the first qualitiesother than physical appearancethat people notice about others is whether they are outgoing or introverted. This provides a context for the conventional wisdom that Al Gore is "stiff and wooden." Personality theorist Theodore Millon (1996) sums up the outward appearance of highly introverted personalities as "boring, unanimated, robotic, phlegmatic, displaying deficits in activation, motoric expressiveness, and spontaneity" (p. 230). Transposed to the jargon of psychology, Gores wooden stiffness is a function of his underlying introversion.
But Al Gores personal political style is not merely a function of introversion; as noted, the vice president is also conscientious. Conscientious personalities, according to Millon (1996), are expressively disciplined; they maintain "a regulated, highly structured and strictly organized" (p. 515) lifestyle. A characteristically solemn mood state is conveyed in an unrelaxed, tense demeanor associated with tight emotional control. Not surprisingly, Gore is publicly perceived as stiff and formal. Not to put too fine a point on the distinction, Gores stiffness reveals his conscientiousness, whereas his wooden demeanor serves as metaphor for his introversion.
The psychological prescription for Al Gore to win the election is to quit his self-effacing jokes and get the message out that his stiffness serves as concrete proof of his essential honesty and integrityconscientiousnessand that his wooden reserveintroversionwill serve him well in focusing on the business of governing, unencumbered by the scourge of poll-driven decision making and a counterfeit "connect-with-people" leadership style.
Costa, P. T., Jr., & McCrae, R. R. (Eds.). (1985). The NEO Personality Inventory manual. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.
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. (1994). Millon Index of Personality Styles manual. San Antonio, TX: Psychological Corporation.
Millon, T. (1996). Disorders of personality: DSM-IV and beyond (2nd ed.). New York: Wiley.
Renshon, S. A. (1996). The psychological assessment of presidential candidates. New York: New York University Press.
Rubenzer, S., Faschingbauer, T., & Ones, D. (1996, August). Personality scores and portraits of U.S. presidents. Paper presented at the 104th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, Toronto, Ontario.
Simonton, D. K. (1988). Presidential style: Biography, personality, and performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 55, 928-936.
A slightly edited version of this paper was published in Clios Psyche (Journal of the Psychohistory Forum), vol. 6, no. 2 (September 1999), pp. 72-74.
For more information about Clios Psyche, contact Paul H. Elovitz, Editor, 627 Dakota Trail, Franklin Lakes, NJ 07417; telephone (201) 891-7486.
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Last updated March 29, 2001