Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics
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Saint Johns University
May 4, 1999
On Fox News Channels "The OReilly Factor," on May 3, 1999 in a segment on Vice President Al Gores poor showing in the polls, Mary Ann Marsh defined Gores problem as essentially a case of people not knowing who Gore is as a person. Ostensibly, they know him only as vice president.
At best, this is daft conjecture. How much better do voters know George W. Bush as a person? In fact, the conventional wisdom is that Bush should define himself as little as possible, given his strong standing in the polls. There is no reason to believe that people would like Al Gore any better if they felt they knew him as a person.
Theres a lot of voodoo punditry in foundering explanations for Al Gores lackluster poll numbers. On March 17, 1999also on "The OReilly Factor"pollster John Zogby, in the following exchange with anchor Bill O'Reilly, attributed Gores poor showing to three factors, all of them of questionable validity.
Bill OReilly: "Im kind of surprised that Mr. Gore is not performing that well [in the polls]. Hes not a man who alienates a lot of people by what he sayscertainly a cautious man in his deliberations, in his speeches. Why do you think hes not showing up well?
John Zogby: "I think theres three things at work here. One is, you know, somehow, some way, someone has to pay for what this countrys been through over the last few years. He [Gore] doesnt have the finesse or the ability to rope-a-dope that his boss Bill Clinton does, and so, I think hes paying for it, at least for now."
[Commentary: This is pure speculation. Zogbys poll numbers are just that: purely descriptive numbers. They have no explanatory power for inferring a causal connection between President Clintons misconduct in office and Al Gores standing in the polls. To achieve that feat would necessitate very specifically framed questions on the Zogby poll. To place Zogbys sloppy logic in perspective, consider this: If Gore had been riding high in the polls, Zogby could just as easily have declared that Gores "Boy Scout" image juxtaposed him in stark contrast to the errant bad-boy Bill Clinton. In short, Zogbys political "analysis" is unfalsifiable, and surely John Zogby must know that unfalsifiability is a hallmark of pseudoscience. It is not my purpose to single John Zogby out for criticism; most pollsters when asked to express an opinion are guilty of reading their numbers like tea leaves, without alerting their audience when they are projecting beyond the constraints of their data. Caveat emptor!]
Zogby (continuing): "Secondly, this is very much a celebrity culture and a celebrity process. This is the age of 24-hour news TV, as we well know, and basically seven years hes been vice president and so people are saying, Hey, its time for a new face; were kind of tired of the same old faces."
[Commentary: I believe that Zogby is correct about the impact of celebrity on the political process; however, his analysis raises this question: What about President George Bush, who was vice president for eight years before being elected president? As for the often-heard argument that President Bush essentially served a third Reagan term, why not elect Al Gore while the going is good? After all, did we not attribute the survival of the Clinton presidency under the sword of impeachment to the strong economy?]
Zogby (continuing): "And then, lastly, you know, George W. Bush hasnt been out there, hasnt engaged yet, nor has Elizabeth Dole for that matter, and so they are at the moment fresh faces who have not really been pounding each other or been pounded by others in a primary process, so I think eventually youre going to see this tighten up."
[Commentary: Fresh face? Elizabeth Dole? But even so, why then does Gore continue to sag in the polls? Shouldnt he at least be holding his own, considering he, too, hasnt been pounded in a primary process?]
In my opinion, Al Gore will not be the next president of the United Statesbut not because he is paying the price for Clintons mistakes or because voters are "tired of the same old faces." Al Gore will not be elected because of a disturbing cultural trend presidential elections: Since the advent of television no presidential election has been won by the more introverted, less charismatic candidate, with the exception of Richard Nixonand Al Gore, basically a good and honest man, is no Richard Nixon.
Should Gore become his partys nominee in 2000, personal style will play a pivotal role in what I regard as the vice presidents 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 presidents 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 Gores troubles in 2000.
The public perception of Gore as "boring" captures the essence of the image that Al Gores underlying personality dynamics must inevitable project upon the public mindand 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 the publics 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 domainsphysically, behaviorally, and emotionallyand are characteristically restrained. They may be perceived as passive and lacking in enthusiasm, initiative, or vigor. Publicly, they display a lack of spontaneityan 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 elicitsand this is key to making sense of Gores lackluster poll numbersa 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.
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