The U.S. Political Personality (I): Parties

Darrell’s avatar

Talking about politics is a risky business, especially in the year of heated and divisive elections. Still, let’s do that. Our goal is not to sort out who is right or wrong, or mend political fences, even if we could. As always, our focus is on personality traits. In a recent survey on the 2016 U.S. presidential election, we found our respondents displayed certain trends and preferences with regard to the different parties, candidates, and voting behaviors. In this series of articles, we will discuss these trends and their possible explanations, doing our best to decipher what drives different personality types to polls. In this survey, only answers from respondents based in the United States and over 18 years of age were taken into account.

Let’s begin with the political parties and their personality profiles. Parties are designed to organize people who are politically like-minded to create a voting bloc, offer a legislative agenda and place candidates in the running for office. This presidential election has shown us that the “like-mindedness” of a party can shift and change and cause upheavals within parties. The primary successes of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have clearly demonstrated that it is not “business as usual” in either the Democratic or Republican Parties. But that aside, is there anything in our personality make-ups that pushes us toward one party or another?

The Democratic Personality

A Democrat who answered our poll is slightly more likely to be an Extravert rather than an Introvert – but only by a negligible difference. However, they are clearly more likely to be Intuitive, Feeling, Prospecting and Turbulent over Observant, Thinking, Judging and Assertive. Combining all these traits, Turbulent Campaigners (ENFP-T) are the best reflection of the Democratic voter from the personality perspective.

What does this mean? Consider the modern Democratic Party. Of the two mainstream parties, Democrats attract more liberals than the Republicans. Sure, there are different shades and degrees of liberal political thought. Some argue the Democratic Party is not as liberal as it should be (or at all anymore). The dreaded word “establishment” might come up, especially during this particular election cycle. Nonetheless, when compared with the Republicans, most consider Democrats to be more liberal in most areas.

(Whew. It’s a tough year to have to describe a political party. So many qualifiers!)

Consider also the 2012 Democratic Convention platform and the issues stated there. The platform supported Roe v. Wade and gay marriage. They called for bringing undocumented immigrants out of the shadows and into society. Health care is treated as a basic right by the Democrats and the 2012 platform included a commitment to a strong Medicare. They also called for winding down military action in Afghanistan. So while there may be currents of “establishment” thinking within the party, the Democratic Party still holds some progressive credentials. With the Democrats in our survey, the Intuitive, Feeling, Prospecting and Turbulent traits prevailed. In can be argued that these are more “liberal” traits.

Those personality types who rely on the Feeling trait are inclined to pay attention to issues geared toward the general welfare and the equality of others. They are likely to place the human element above all other considerations when deciding the importance of an issue. Those are the characteristics often attributed to liberals though most conservatives would argue liberals don’t corner the market on compassion. However, there is a reason for the somewhat derogatory label “bleeding heart liberals.” It reflects a reliance on the Feeling trait.

Furthermore, Prospecting personalities seek out and embrace change almost instinctively. Many see promoting social evolution as the primary dissimilarity between conservatives and liberals. Whereas conservatives stick to traditional values and ideas, liberals are more likely to promote more drastic change designed to lead a better future. As an example, Obama’s campaign motto was “Hope and Change.” (To which conservative Republicans famously and sarcastically responded, “How’s that hope and change going for you?” during the worst parts of the Great Recession.)

A preference for the Intuitive trait adds visionary and novelty-seeking qualities to a personality configuration. The Intuitive personality types are “big picture” people and may not always pay attention to details. However, their imaginations are always connecting dots and dreaming dreams. They look to the future and potential things that might exist there. Some PR agency somewhere captured this dominant Democratic spirit when they created the “hope and change” slogan mentioned above.

Contrast this with the Republicans’ current frontrunner’s slogan, “Make America Great Again.” The Republicans tend to want to change things to the way they once were (real or imagined). There is little call for anything radically different. Innovative ideas can be difficult for the more “down-to-earth” Observant types who are often highly represented among conservatives. So, it’s easy to see why those who rely on Intuition would lean toward the more progressive of the two main parties.

In the same vein, Turbulent people have a persistent sense of “not enough” and seek to improve their lot in life. Personality types in the two Turbulent Strategies (Social Engagement and then Constant Improvement) were significantly more likely to be Democrats than those in the two Assertive Strategies. It’s reasonable to think these individuals extend their dissatisfactions and need for improvement to their political philosophy and project it onto the world.

The survey respondents are hugely (to quote Donald Trump) aligned with the Democratic Party (average 44% among the Types). These numbers are not a mirror of the United States. The number of Americans who declare themselves to be Democrats hovers around 33%. Nonetheless, for our purposes, this doesn’t hurt our conclusions. Our purpose is not to describe the political demographics of the country. Instead, we are interested in suggested personality influences found in our data. We can discuss this by working within topics and comparing with the other personality traits represented. Through this method, we can still glean plenty of information without our sample (1633 respondents when this article was written) being a mirror reflection of the United States.

The Republican Personality

The Grand Old Party of Lincoln has had one of the prickliest primary seasons in recent history. If you listen to the sub-text of the Republican candidates’ fiery debates, their personal attacks and their campaign speeches, the message they want to get across is clear. The basic theme is: “I’m more conservative than the other candidates.”

Many pundits and other political observers have noted a strong pull to the right for Republicans who have run for government seats in recent years. This has created a rift between the so-called “establishment Republicans ” and “real conservatives.” The small but vocal Tea Party movement rose in response to this shift in ideology. Or perhaps the other way around. Perhaps, the current move to stronger conservatism was helped along by the rise of the Tea Party with the help of a.m. radio and the Internet. Either way, most who consider themselves Tea Party members vote Republican and help confirm the party’s conservative leanings.

From these results, the Assertive Executive (ESTJ-A) might be the typical Republican. Our poll finds they are the Type with the highest percentage of Republican voters (53%). The thing to notice here is their Sentinel Role. Observant and Judging traits that define this Role are generally more identified with conservative thinking because of their penchant for tradition and predictable order. These personality types prefer sure efficiency and what has come before over riskier visionary and speculative behavior. This does not necessarily mean a lack of flexibility or curiosity as much as it means one is most comfortable with what one already knows. New ideas are met with skepticism.

The Republican Party 2012 Platform included items like traditional family values, gun owners’ rights, strong military and fiscal austerity. They uphold the First Amendment, but champion it primarily as it mostly affects Judeo-Christian expression and moral standards. Unfortunately for those who hold this position, families are becoming less traditional and secularism is gaining a foothold in America. Some defeats in the so-called culture wars have caused them to lose their footing in the last presidential elections. One difficulty with which Republicans contend, by their own admission, is that they have not connected with the changing demographics in the United States. The Republican National Committee (RNC) itself highlighted this after losing the presidential election of 2012.

Hispanic and other immigrant populations have exploded in the United States in recent decades, and many immigrants did not feel the Republican Party welcomed them. Republicans would counter that they welcome those who come legally. Their only objection is to the undocumented immigrant. Nonetheless, this inability to connect with the shifting ethnicity of the population speaks to a general uneasiness with change, often a characteristic of Sentinel personality types.

We need the tradition and stability that Sentinels defend. They are an invaluable balance when the less practical visionaries over-extend their influence. They are great at getting the world’s business done in an efficient manner. Sentinel personalities prefer thinking inside the box, but within that box they can do a lot. Republicans are more likely to support that than any radical change.

One criticism often offered about Republicans is that they are “cold-hearted.” They talk about cutting welfare. For them, the sometimes inhuman free market becomes a solution to most human problems including poverty and lack of health care. They often take a more libertarian view that it’s not the government’s job to take care of the people to the extent they are. Like their libertarian cousins, they are often yoked with the reputation that they have an “empathy gap” in their party. Republicans bandied about the term “compassionate conservative” during the 2000 election campaign to combat this image.

This perceived lack of concern for others is reflected in our poll by the predominance of the Thinking trait among Republicans. Personality types with the Thinking trait do not always display empathy. It’s not necessarily that empathy isn’t present, but that they put logic first. Emotional responses to a situation is seen as the lesser alternative.

Those who prefer the Thinking trait may want to “teach a man to fish” rather than offer them fish to eat. Why should the hungry get fish they haven’t caught themselves? What happens tomorrow when there is nobody around to give them their next meal? Republicans often talk about setting up a cycle of dependence. Helping another with handouts may not seem rational to those personalities who rely on the Thinking trait.

Philosophically, they might feel they are being compassionate in a more sustainable way when they introduce people to a skill or usher them into the free market. (Whether Republicans actually do either of those things and practice this philosophy is another matter for another discussion.) For personality types with the Thinking trait, “tough love” with a plan may be a better alternative to an outright charitable contribution.

(And let’s remember there are still plenty of Republicans in our poll who prefer the Feeling trait. But we can assume the majority sets the tone.)

Of the four Strategies, the highest percentage of Republicans employed the People Mastery Strategy. The combination of Extraverted and Assertive traits speaks to their concern with being involved with and shaping society. People Masters are more likely to walk the earth with a confidence about who they are and a lack of concern about what others think of them. These personalities are not as likely as most to be cowed or shamed into behaving in certain ways. It just doesn’t matter as much to them. So, if others regard them as cold-hearted, rigid or out-of-step with progress, they are not likely to let that affect what they believe. They know and believe in themselves. Unlike personality types with the Turbulent trait, many of those who embrace the People Mastery strategy don’t feel a need to change themselves or their worlds. “Hope and change” is for the other guys.

The Independent Voter Personality

With media emphasis on Democrats and Republicans, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking of the Independent voter or candidate as insignificant. We might be tempted to think they are those voters who fall between the cracks and have no strong opinions. However, recent research suggests the opposite.

The number of Independent voters is larger than the number of Republican or the Democratic voters taken separately. It’s the fastest growing political group in the country. Although represented by some organizations, most Independent voters do not belong to any. Essentially, they are a non-party with loose affiliations. They put issues and individual candidates before partisan loyalty. In other words, a candidate has to earn their votes and appeal to their individual ideology and concerns. They are not spoon-fed their opinions by a party or movement and, consequently, may have to work harder to form them on their own.

You might think an independent stance in politics makes it harder to capture a snapshot of personality characteristics. It would seem easier to peg someone with a shared philosophy due to being aligned with a political party. After all, an Independent voter could be a liberal or a conservative or fall anywhere along the spectrum between the two. The only thing they have in common for certain is the “not belonging to a political party” thing. Nonetheless, our poll suggests that there are some fairly well-defined personality traits for those who choose to remain independent.

In our poll, Independent voters are more Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Prospective, and Assertive than they are Extraverted, Observant, Feeling, Judging, and Turbulent. The predominance of the Intuitive and Thinking Traits suggests that personality types within the Analyst role are more inclined to vote Independent than the others, with Assertive Logicians (INTP-A) taking the top spot. Our poll confirms this by comparing Roles.

Analysts are more likely to take personality issues and alliances out of their decision-making. Being part of a team or movement may not be as important for them. They are looking for reason and effectiveness. Those who prefer the Feeling trait are more likely fold in the idea of loyalty to others or a party when they vote. Analysts are more likely to see being loyal to an overarching group as secondary to a specific political stance.

Introverts are somewhat more likely than Extraverts to be Independent. They are naturally less inclined to belong to a group. A political party is a social concept and, for this reason, Introverts may not feel a need to be a part of one. The Assertive voters are sure of their abilities and by extension probably their ability to draw conclusions or think for themselves. They are less likely to need a party voter guide to tell them the right way to vote. Put the two personality traits together and the Confident Individualism Strategy emerges.

The percentage of Independents who prefer the Confident Individualism Strategy is significantly higher than those who prefer the other three Strategies. The Confident Individualist is a self-assured lone wolf personality. Certainly a person described this way might live on the outskirts of a political party with some attraction to its ideas. However, they might also be just as comfortable approaching the political world completely on their own.

The Libertarian Personality

The Libertarian Party is an organized expression of the libertarian philosophy where freedom is of primary importance and government is something to tame and keep to a minimum. Self-sufficiency is king and the judgments and the choices of the individual rule his or her life. They generally feel that a great many people rely the government too much. They believe this causes them to leech unfairly from others who work hard or who are well-off.

The philosophy of the Libertarian Party dictates the government stay out of the lives of its citizens. According to their platform, people should be free to live according to their own conscience and choose whatever lifestyle for which they are willing to take responsibility. Their economic theory contends that an unencumbered free market is the best path and government should not regulate nor subsidize industry or the market in any way. For them, the free market becomes a panacea for many social ills. They are in favor of abolishing Social Security and other social safety nets describing such matters as an individual’s responsibility and not in the purview of the government. The Second Amendment is strongly supported because, if a citizen wants protection, it is not only their right but their responsibility to handle it themselves.

With regard to personality, the highest percentage of those who claimed to be Libertarians possessed the Intuitive and Thinking traits:

This suggests that Libertarians lean toward the Analyst role. As always, it’s important to make clear that not all Analysts are Libertarian or libertarian. They are just more likely.

Analysts are perhaps the least empathetic of the Roles. They resist anything even bending slightly in the direction of an emotional decision. This can manifest itself in a cold and calculating manner. These personality types don’t always appreciate or understand others’ emotional journeys and by extension may not always have a strong a sense of their suffering. They are more interested in efficiency and objectivity.

Libertarians are sometimes described as not particularly empathetic. Some studies have suggested they place the concept of personal liberty above other moral and social values like cooperative living. While certainly not applicable to all Analysts, it’s easy to see how these attitudes might describe some in that group.

Assertive Debaters (ENTP-A) score as the Type with the highest percentage who claim to be Libertarian. They are generally people with agile minds who are eager to defend their positions and relish a victory when they get one. Debaters are known to argue for the sport of it. Libertarians are perhaps the most purely philosophical and concept-based political group on the American scene. Because of this, this Party would be a solid match for a like-minded Debater.

In terms of Strategies, there were no notable differences:

The Constitution Party Personality

A small third party, the Constitution Party upholds tradition and are Constitutional originalists. It is perhaps the most adamantly conservative party. Small government, returning national morals to a Judeo-Christian base, national sovereignty, gun rights and free market philosophies are at the core of their beliefs.

Only the plainest reading of the Constitution is legitimate, which they refer to as the Actual Intent of the Founding Fathers (capitalization theirs). There is no room for complex interpretations or alternate considerations. The country is bound in a literal sense to the letter of the law as the Founders wrote it over two hundred years ago. “What you see is what you get” no matter what societal evolution has taken place.

(The counter argument to this is that the Constitution offers overarching principles but is designed for future generations to interpret it in compliance with how society changes. It is a “living” document subject to interpretation according to the times, not frozen during a time in the past.)

Our sample of Constitutional Party members represented a very small percentage of our respondents, and so we can only indulge in speculation. However, this small sample does provide some patterns which are hard to deny. Our data suggests the party appeals to the Introverted, Observant and Judging personality types significantly more than to the Extraverted, Intuitive and Prospecting ones. Naturally, Sentinels get the highest score among the Roles, and Confident Individualism stands out among the Strategies.

Sentinels typically bind themselves to tradition and are not as likely to think in terms of innovative visions and complex extrapolations of meaning. Their preferred focus is on the concrete and practical rather than theories or lofty philosophies. These personalities may fit well with the more literal interpretations of the Constitution by this party.

The Green Personality

The Green Party is often seen by disgruntled Democrats as the reason there was no President Al Gore in 2000. Remember Ralph Nader’s run on the Green Party ticket? The Greens blame the lock the two-party system has on American elections for the 2000 debacle.

Members of this party declare that the Democrats, considered the more liberal of the two mainstream parties, have lost their way. They believe true progressives are no longer being heard. They may offer as evidence that most people are probably unaware of the Green Party’s presumed presidential candidate for 2016, Jill Stein.

The Four Pillars of the Green Party are: Peace and Non-Violence, Ecological Wisdom, Grassroots Democracy and Social Justice. With their idealistic championing of the rights and welfare of all citizens of the world, one might imagine that they would have an appeal to Diplomats. After all, their Four Pillars are umbrella categories for thousands of possible social causes. And who likes a social cause better than a Diplomat? This party may be a logical home for some in this empathic personality group. Our data seems to agree.

Only a small percentage of our respondents said they supported the Green Party most. Nonetheless, distinctions were evident in our data that hint at the personality profiles of those likely to lean Green. There is a far greater percentage of those who are Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, and Turbulent over those who are Extraverted, Observant, Thinking, and Assertive.

The Intuitive and Feeling traits are the core traits of the Diplomat Role. Taken as a group, Diplomat personality types had the highest percentage of those who said they preferred the Green Party.

On the other end of the spectrum, not a single Sentinel (out of nearly 200 respondents falling under this Role) embraced the Green Party. The Sentinel group has strong nurturing personality types who are empathic and work toward the welfare of others. However, the Green Party may symbolize too much systemic change for them. Sentinels would be more inclined to volunteer at the local food bank than worry about the global distribution of wealth and resources (not that the two activities have to be exclusive). The Green Party wants to shake things up and bring about comprehensive change. This would have little appeal to the Sentinels who are happy trying to help where they can within life as they know it.

In terms of Strategies, the Green Party clearly appeals to Constant Improvement and Confident Individualism types. These reserved, independent personalities may be less concerned about keeping the status quo than their counterparts, and the Green Party may seem like a viable alternative to more established parties.

What’s Next?

In the next article of this series (now available), we will take a look at different personalities’ voting habits and campaign volunteering. Stay tuned – and in the meantime, please share your thoughts below!