Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics

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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


Professor Publishes Personality Profile of President Bill Clinton

ST. JOSEPH, Minn., Aug. 27, 1998 — President Clinton’s Aug. 17 admission of an improper sexual relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, and recent reports that independent counsel Kenneth Starr is investigating possible abuses of presidential power, have stimulated renewed speculation concerning Bill Clinton’s character and judgment.

A comprehensive assessment of the political personalities of President Clinton and Senator Bob Dole by Aubrey Immelman, associate professor of psychology at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University, will be published this fall in the journal Leadership Quarterly.

To examine the character of political leaders, Immelman adapted the conceptual system of Theodore Millon, a leading contemporary authority in the field of personality assessment. "Because political figures typically are not accessible for conventional methods of psychological assessment, there is a need to evaluate them indirectly, at a distance," Immelman said.

For this purpose he constructed the Millon Inventory of Diagnostic Criteria (MIDC), a psychological instrument designed to abstract personality patterns directly from biographical data and other sources of information in the public domain. According to Immelman, his goal was "to develop a coherent, theoretically based psychodiagnostic framework for synthesizing personality data from a broad range of sources encompassing divergent perspectives." He added that this was "crucial for revealing psychologically lawful connections, generating explanations independent from the observations used to construct the profile, and systematically extrapolating potential political consequences from underlying personality patterns."

Using this procedure, Immelman determined that President Clinton’s personality was an amalgam of the "Asserting" and "Outgoing" patterns described by Millon. Following is his synopsis of Millon’s general description of this personality type, developed without specific reference to President Clinton:

"The Asserting-Outgoing personality is highly ambitious and self-promoting, driven by a need to achieve fame and public recognition. A distinctive feature of this personality composite is an erotic and seductive orientation. For these personalities, sexual prowess serves to enhance self-worth. These individuals may have an indifferent conscience and aloofness to the truth, which, if brought to their attention, is likely to elicit nonchalant innocence. They tend to be undisciplined, traveling an erratic course of successes, failures, and abandoned hopes, and are driven by a need for excitement, stimulation, and challenge.

"Although they may leave a trail of broken promises and outrageous acts, including sexual excesses, their disregard for the truth and their talents for exploitation and deception are rarely hostile or malicious in intent. More typically, it is simply a product of their sense of entitlement — their assumption that what they wish for is their due, that the implicit rules of reciprocal social relationships do not apply to them."

In 1996 Immelman anticipated the following risks for the second term of the Clinton presidency:

"A ‘worst-case’ prediction for President Clinton, in view of significant Asserting characteristics in his personality profile, is that he may commit errors of judgment stemming from a combination of strong ambition, a sense of entitlement, and inflated self-confidence. Asserting characteristics may also predispose him to dissemble or equivocate, not only ego-defensively to protect and bolster an admirable self-image, but instrumentally to have his way with others. Concurrent Outgoing features in President Clinton’s MIDC profile suggest a strong need for public recognition, approval, and validation, along with a willingness to use his social skills to influence and charm others (though lacking some fidelity in consistently fulfilling his promises). Outgoing traits are further associated with scattered attention to detail, boredom with routine activities, intense but short-lived moods, and avoidance of introspection — all of which may potentially interfere with effective leadership. Finally, there is a danger that Outgoing presidents such as Bill Clinton may be oversensitive to public opinion and neglectful of role demands relating to oversight, . . . [including the tasks of] guarding protocol and morality against violation and physical resources against improper and unwarranted use."

On Aug. 17, prior to President Clinton’s testimony before the grand jury in the Starr investigation, Immelman issued the following personality-based prognostication:

"Taking into account President Clinton’s personality profile, situational constraints, and past behavior, the general expectation is that his testimony will be evasive rather than forthright, vague rather than precise, and ambiguous rather than explicit. It seems to be a pattern with President Clinton that initial outright denial is later followed, under duress, by measured honesty, carefully calibrated truth-telling, and — ultimately — contrition. Given the circumstances, his grand jury testimony is likely to have a similar flavor. By the same token, the ‘mea culpa’ scenario appears to be rather remote." Immelman further predicted that President Clinton may be "unable to sustain his supreme sense of self-confidence in the face of tough questioning from prosecutors," resulting in the President "losing his temper when his confidence is shaken."

Asked how a beleaguered President Clinton might respond in a deepening political crisis after the submission of Starr’s report to Congress, Immelman paraphrased as follows from the published work of Millon:

"When their confidence is shaken, the feigned tranquillity and cool imperturbability of these personalities may briefly give way to defiance, self-bolstering rage, or remorseful shame. When psychically wounded by personal failure or social humiliation, these personalities will initially try to screen out negative and judgmental responses 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 perceived persecutors. Increasingly alienated, they may become insular and unreceptive, and under siege these persons eventually come to be seen as undesirable and embarrassing — touchy and inflated persons shunned by others."

With reference to current efforts by some investigators to search for parallels between Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon, Immelman commented that "the personality style and underlying motives of President Clinton, being relatively free of paranoid thinking and unlikely to harbor significant hostile or malicious intent, are vastly different from those that scuttled the political career of President Nixon."

A member of the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University faculty since 1991, Immelman earned his doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Port Elizabeth, in South Africa. He has conducted extensive research in the area of political personality, including studies of South African presidents P. W. Botha, F. W. de Klerk, and Nelson Mandela, U.S. first ladies Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Clinton, and U.S. Vice President Al Gore. 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