Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics

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Public Affairs Office

College of Saint Benedict, 37 S. College Ave., St. Joseph, MN 56374-2099
Saint John’s University, Collegeville, MN 56321

For more information contact: Greg Hoye, 320/363-2672


Personality Profile Reveals Flaws, Redeeming Qualities in Clinton’s Character

ST. JOSEPH, Minn., Dec. 17, 1998 — A psychological study of President Bill Clinton, conducted before the 1996 election, predicted that the Clinton presidency would be "troubled by ethical questions and lapses of judgment," but that the president would "retain a following and maintain his self-confidence in the face of adversity." The investigation revealed serious flaws as well as redeeming features in the president’s personality, and found his motives to be "vastly different from those that scuttled the political career of Richard Nixon."

The study, by associate professor of psychology at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University, Aubrey Immelman, was published this fall in the journal Leadership Quarterly. Immelman concluded that in a second presidential term Bill Clinton would likely continue to display his "driving ambition, supreme sense of self-confidence, and personal charisma," but offered the "sobering caveat" that President Clinton’s character contained "the seeds of its own undoing."

Specifically, Immelman determined that President Clinton’s personality was an amalgam of ambitious and outgoing personality styles. According to Immelman, these patterns incorporate adaptive aspects of the narcissistic and histrionic character types described in the clinical personality literature. Ambitious personalities are assertive, self-assured, persuasive, self-centered, and have a tendency to be arrogant, acting as though entitled. Outgoing personalities are gregarious, image-conscious, easily bored, charming, seductive, glib and inventive, and believe they can readily charm and influence others.

The study was conducted before the president’s affair with Monica Lewinsky came to light. Asked what the president’s character reveals about his sexual risk taking, Immelman noted that personality theorist Theodore Millon of the University of Miami has found that a distinctive feature of the ambitious-outgoing personality composite (as in the case of Bill Clinton) is "an erotic and seductive orientation." According to Millon, such individuals may have an indifferent conscience and aloofness to the truth, which, if brought to their attention, is likely to elicit nonchalant innocence. They are driven by a need for excitement, stimulation, and challenge and tend to be undisciplined, traveling an erratic course of successes, failures, and abandoned hopes. Although they may leave a trail of broken promises and outrageous acts, their disregard for the truth and their talents for exploitation and deception are rarely hostile or malicious in intent.

With reference to the current impeachment proceedings against the president, Immelman said that failings associated with ambitious, outgoing personalities such as President Clinton are typically limited in scope, extending primarily to self-indulgent excess, including sexual intemperance. More important, when these personalities land themselves in trouble, their misconduct is generally of a self-serving nature rather than with malice aforethought. They arrogantly, yet benignly, overlook their personal vulnerabilities and take unwarranted risks – including self-protective lying and duplicity – which precipitate a fall from grace.

According to Immelman, the redeeming feature of President Clinton’s character is that his sexual risk-taking does not portend a larger recklessness in discharging the duties of his office. Furthermore, sexual misconduct and deceit are part and parcel of a personality configuration that also embraces more admirable qualities such as self-confidence, personal charisma, and an ability to connect with people – precisely those personal qualities and political skills that contributed to his election victories in 1992 and 1996. Immelman cautions that although some analysts have searched for parallels between the Lewinsky affair and Watergate, in psychological terms Bill Clinton – whose personality style and deeper motives are substantively free of paranoid thinking or hostile, malicious intent – is very far removed from Richard Nixon.

Asked how a beleaguered President Clinton might respond in the deepening political crisis surrounding his presidency, Immelman said: "Based on Millon’s theory, one can expect that the feigned tranquillity and cool imperturbability of personalities such as President Clinton’s may briefly give way to defiance, self-bolstering rage, or remorseful shame when their confidence is shaken.

"When publicly humiliated, these personalities initially try to screen out negative criticism by rationalizing their difficulties, devising plausible ‘proofs,’ and inventing alibis to present themselves in the best possible light and to salvage their deflated self-esteem. Under persistent, relentless pressure, however, they begin to shed their characteristic charm, buoyant optimism, and considerable charisma, growing increasingly irritable and angry, and turning ever more defiant, hostile and contemptuous of their detractors."

The president’s personality profile leads Immelman to believe that Bill Clinton "is unlikely to resign from office" and "will do whatever it takes to survive this crisis."

Immelman has been a member of the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University faculty since 1991. He has conducted extensive research in the area of political personality, including studies of South African presidents F. W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela, U.S. first ladies Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Clinton, U.S. vice president Al Gore, and independent counsel Kenneth Starr. He is currently studying Texas governor George W. Bush and Minnesota governor-elect Jesse Ventura. Professor Immelman can be contacted at

The College of Saint Benedict for women has a unique coordinate partnership with Saint John’s University for men. Together, the colleges challenge students to live balanced lives of learning, work, leadership, and service in a changing world.

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

Last modified: 04/16/2000