This is one of a series of political profiles produced by political
psychologist Aubrey Immelman in the Unit for the
Study of Personality in Politics at the College of St. Benedict and St. John's
University in Collegeville, Minn.
Editors note: In the past year, Times
columnist Aubrey Immelman has argued that presidential candidates' personality profiles
serve as useful predictors of their performance in office. As this drawn-out election
drags to a close, Immelman uses this column to provide accountability for his
personality-based political analysis.
December 10, 2000
Theories on personality pan out
By Aubrey Immelman
In my opinion columns during the past election year, I contended that presidential
candidates' personality profiles predict their performance in office.
A practical, preliminary test of this contention is to examine how my personality-based
predictions for Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush fared in
foreshadowing their actual behavior during the 2000 presidential campaign.
On Aug. 13 I wrote that Gore, though diligent and dutiful, was inclined to be stubborn and
moralistic a classic conscientious type.
When combined with considerable aloofness, the less endearing aspects of the conscientious
character can compound the candidate's public relations problems.
As I noted, introverts like Gore are not particularly warm or engaging, and their lack of
social graces may be "perceived as social indifference and a lack of empathy, which
tends to elicit a reciprocal reaction in voters."
This is exactly what happened in the first presidential debate, "which the overeager,
socially tone-deaf Gore won on raw debating points but lost in the court of public
opinion," I ventured on Nov. 19.
And it is precisely this politically debilitating combination of deep introversion and
being too conscientious that moved New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd to lament Nov.
22, "Truth to tell, some of Mr. Gore's own campaign aides don't even like him because
he's so aloof and hypercritical. As one Democrat despaired before the election, 'If his
aides don't like him, how can they possibly sell him to the rest of the country?'"
George W. Bush, too, proceeded predictably. His principal strength as an outgoing
candidate would be his skill in mobilizing popular support and retaining a following in
the face of adversity.
And Bush's primary leadership limitations, I suspected, included a superficial grasp of
complex issues, impulsiveness, and a propensity for favoring personal connections,
friendship and loyalty over competence in his staffing decisions and political
This assessment was largely borne out in the course of the campaign. Bush demonstrated his
strengths as a mobilizer by erasing Gore's post-convention bounce. And afterward, Bush
outflanked Gore on the public relations front of their running battle for Florida's
contested electoral votes.
However, Bush's personal deficits made him vulnerable not only to his adversary's attacks,
but to self-inflicted wounds. Gore's most effective weapon against Bush was the charge
that he lacked the capacity to be president, and Bush never quite convinced his critics
that he was fully in command of the issues.
Most telling was the way Bush predictably stumbled into the pitfall of personal
connections and loyalty in his personnel decisions.
Bush's selection of Dick Cheney as his running mate the very person charged with
leading his vice-presidential search, and secretary of defense in his father's
administration offered an early glimpse of this proclivity.
More disconcerting, Bush's decision to withhold information about his 1976 drunken driving
arrest was probably the most momentous miscalculation of his presidential campaign.
Incredibly, key members of Bush's inner circle reportedly had been aware of this time bomb
yet failed to impress upon their boss the importance of coming clean. This critical lapse
of judgment quite conceivably cost the candidate the votes he needed for a popular-vote
As I wrote Jul. 30, "the erratic path of George W. Bush's coming-of-age as a
politician ... [raises] legitimate questions concerning his ... judgment."
Gore, for his part, had problems of his own. Most notably, the tenacity with which he
clung to the rapidly receding prospect of victory following Bush's certification as the
winner in Florida, and his reluctance to concede, could spell the end of his political
On Aug. 13, I wrote that high-dominance introverts like Gore tend to view the world in terms
of a struggle between "the moral values they think it ought to exhibit and the forces
opposed to this vision." They seek "to reshape the world in accordance with
their personal vision," favoring impersonal mechanisms and moral principles toward
In short, Gore had "a self-defeating potential for dogmatically pursuing personal
policy preferences despite legislative or public disapproval," coupled with "a
deficit in the politically pivotal skill of easily connecting with people."
Glimmerings of this tendency could be discerned in Gore's no-holds-barred struggle for
political survival in Florida, despite rising unfavorability ratings and increasingly
urgent calls that he concede defeat.
Ultimately, the uninspiring Gore's slim majority of the popular vote stands as testimony
not of his strength as a candidate, but of the prosperous economy and the collective
contentment of the American people. Bush's points-advantage in personality effectively
canceled Gore's political edge, yielding an electoral tie.
But no matter who is finally declared the winner, the new president will face an uphill
struggle. The obstacles for Gore would be more daunting. Practically, he will face
Republican majorities in both the House and the Senate. Personally, his introversive
nature serves as an impediment to the kind of compromise, coalition building, and forging
of supportive networks indispensable in institutionalizing his policy initiatives.
Although Bush for his part will be considerably hampered by the slender margin of the
congressional Republican majority, his less ideological, more conciliatory, outgoing
orientation will augment his "retail" politician's skills and catalyze his
capacity to consummate his policy objectives.
But whatever happens, the 43rd president of the United States will be cursed with a cloud
of skepticism concerning the legitimacy of his election.
Aubrey Immelman is a political psychologist and an associate professor of psychology
at the College of St. Benedict and St. John's University. You may write to him in care of
the St. Cloud Times, P.O. Box 768, St. Cloud, MN
George W. Bush