If it wasn’t clear before, last Monday’s Presidential debate made it so: the 2016 Presidential election is not an election of policy; it is an election of personality. Although the first five minutes or so of the debate concerned economic policy, the remainder of the debate largely resembled a public personality interview, with both candidates making their best efforts to demonstrate what makes their own personal qualities the right ones for the job and their opponents’ the wrong ones. Late in the debate Donald Trump even stated “I think my strongest asset by far is my temperament. I have a winning temperament.”
Just a bit over a year ago, before most thought he would end up as the Republican Party presidential nominee, I wrote about Donald Trump’s personality. Looking back, and having seen Mr. Trump’s personality on full display for over a year now, I think it is pretty fair to say that (a) my earlier assessment was pretty accurate and (b) he hasn’t changed his personality one bit. Thus, with the election only about a month away, I now turn to the personality of the Democratic Party’s nominee: Hillary Clinton.
Given that Mrs. Clinton has been a public figure and serving public office for some time, it is somewhat surprising that so little has been written about her personality.1 A presentation in 2008 describes Mrs. Clinton in terms of the Big 5 personality traits and the Myers-Briggs typology. More recently, the USPP website provided a description of Mrs. Clinton’s personality in terms of the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory, a measure of clinical personality problems.
In contrast to those articles, I describe Mrs. Clinton’s personality in terms of her Bright Side (how she typically behaves) and her Dark Side (how she behaves when under stress or when she lets her guard down). Of course, I do not know Mrs. Clinton personally and have not had the opportunity to assess her personality professionally. However, personality is best captured by reputation, or the sum of one’s behavior. As such, I interpret Mrs. Clinton’s personality by considering her behavior over the past several years.2 Where appropriate, I also offer comparisons to Mr. Trump.
Beginning with the Bright Side we can expect Mrs. Clinton to be:
On the Dark Side we can expect Mrs. Clinton to be:
In summary, Mrs. Clinton is highly motivated—even obsessive—about her own success. She is calm and controlled in her outward behavior, though internally she takes criticism to heart. She is not particularly socially skilled (compared to other politicians) and would undoubtedly rather people focus on her service record rather than her on stage performances. While she has many personality strengths that would make her an effective leader, she lacks in charisma and excitement that many look for when choosing leaders. Additionally, her tendency to be rule-abiding combined with her strong desire to achieve means she will tend towards moderate and cautious policies, probably far more moderate than she is promising her constituency.
As I have noted before, the fate of any organization is largely a function of that organization's leadership. As such, the stakes of the upcoming election for the United States are high. Ultimately, it is a person’s personality that gets him or her elected and likewise a person’s personality that indicates how he or she will lead. The remainder of the 2016 election is sure to be quite fascinating as America chooses between Mr. Trump, whose personality is on full display at all times, and Mrs. Clinton, whose personality is more guarded are difficult to discern. The former has a combination of characteristics that are far more entertaining and electable, while the latter has a combination that is considerably more boring, but likely more effective for leading.
1 Excluding those that are clearly ideologically driven.
2 Which is the same method everyone else uses, though I do have the advantage of being a trained personality psychologist with experience assessing lots of personalities.
3 It is likely that some (if not many) Clinton supporters will object to this particular characterization, arguing that it reflects sexism and an unfair double-standard for women in politics. To some degree, they are correct. On average, women tend to score higher on Interpersonal Sensitivity than men (which is one reason why women tend to be more effective leaders than men). When we judge Mrs. Clinton’s level of Interpersonal Sensitivity, we are undoubtedly comparing her to Interpersonal Sensitivity levels of other women. By this comparison, Mrs. Clinton is fairly low, even though she may not be all that low compared to men. Moreover, women are penalized more for low levels of Interpersonal Sensitivity (or likeability) than men. Indeed, Mr. Trump’s level of Interpersonal Sensitivity appears to be much lower than Mrs. Clinton’s, but she seems to be far more hurt (in terms of polling numbers) by it. Despite this, reputation is reputation. Whether it is fair or not, Mrs. Clinton’s Interpersonal Sensitivity is largely viewed by others to be relatively low.
4 Mrs. Clinton’s detractors may object to this characterization pointing to her email scandal, for example, as suggesting a lack of detail-orientation and rule-following. However, such errors in cutting corners are pretty rare for Mrs. Clinton. Further, unlike her Republican counterpart, Mrs. Clinton appears to be genuinely contrite and able to admit she has made mistakes.
I am grateful to Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Dr. Robert Hogan for their thoughtful suggestions and contributions to this post.