The U.S. Political Personality (III): Presidential Candidates

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We expect that U.S. presidential elections will be contentious. That always sounds worse than it is. With no disagreement or even controversy, what difference does it make who we choose for president? The whole point of an election is to decide who is best suited for the office. If candidates were all the same and agreed, we could pull a name from a hat and be done with it.

So, maybe being contentious isn’t as bad as it sounds. On the other hand, if we value contention, we may have an “embarrassment of riches” this year, because of the strong differences. Then again, if we separate civility and unnecessarily harsh tones from reasonable contention, it might simply leave us with only the “embarrassment” part of that phrase. Regardless, 2016 will go down in history as one of the more unique election years. But our job here is not to editorialize.

It is our ongoing quest to find out more about personality types and traits, and how they relate to the world. To that end, we have asked our readers to tell us their choices for presidential candidates. Then we matched this with their personality types. From that we were able to glean interesting information about the people who choose particular candidates. We have already covered party preferences and voter involvement in two previous articles of this series – this article will focus on the candidates themselves.

It’s important to keep in mind that this is a snapshot of the supporters of the candidates, and not necessarily the candidates themselves. It would make sense that supporters who identify with certain candidates may share similar personality traits with them. However, our data doesn’t guarantee that sort of bridge and shouldn’t be taken to represent the candidate – just his or her supporters as they have given us their own responses.

We have not only included the three candidates that are currently still running – Trump (unopposed), Clinton and Sanders – but also a couple of “honorable mentions” – Cruz and Kasich – who survived a good run until recently in the primary.

For those interested in the numbers: Since our respondents are self-selected, they do not represent the same demographic you might see represented in a national poll. Since we don’t pick respondents randomly from the population, our polls aren’t a mirror of the country. The numbers won’t match. For example, in the larger world, Bernie Sanders continues to trail just behind Hillary Clinton. In contrast, our respondents are “Bernie voters” significantly more than they are “Hillary voters.” By our online poll, Bernie should be way out ahead of his opponent. However, the real results of the primary and the news organization polls place him second.

However, it’s not necessary to reflect the population exactly in a poll to get good information. We’re not interested in finding out how a certain state is likely to vote, for example. Rather, our goal is to compare different voter groups from the personality perspective. Because of our large sample (over 1600 respondents), we can speculate about the leanings of a trait in an informed way when it’s compared in a relative fashion to other traits. It’s a matter of comparing our data about how those with certain traits vote relative to other traits.

The Clinton Supporter

It may not surprise Bernie supporters that those who chose Hillary as their first choice are almost exact opposites to those who support Bernie. (And we use the familiar first name here because everybody wants to be a populist now. First name usage seems to be in vogue, especially on the Democratic side.) Where Hillary supporters lean Extraverted, Bernie’s lean Introverted. Hillary folks are more Observant; Bernie’s are more Intuitive. Same with most of the traits. There is a nearly perfect polarity between the two candidates’ supporters. From a personality standpoint, it does suggest they appeal to very different crowds. This may not bode well for reuniting the Democratic party after the primary season.

Then on the other hand, we also asked our respondents about their second choices for president. Those who chose Hillary or Bernie in the first round, overwhelmingly (~95%) agreed they would support the other Democratic candidate as their second choice, regardless of their personality traits. Thinking and Assertive types were the most reluctant, with ~9% defecting to Donald Trump’s camp. Based on this, perhaps we can offer some hope for Democratic Party unity after all. (Of course, there are many other factors than personality types. Some may just decide to sit out the election rather than vote for their second choice.)

So, who follows Hillary? Her supporters are more likely to be Extraverted, Observant, Feeling, Judging and Assertive. These personality traits speak to concrete orderliness and predictability. Interestingly, those in our survey who claimed they were Democrats were more likely to say they were Intuitive, Prospecting and Turbulent. While clearly Hillary is getting enough votes that it would be hard to deny that enough Democrats support her, this data might suggest the fit isn’t perfect with the majority of Democrats.

Of the three remaining primary candidates, Hillary is perhaps the most “known quantity” in politics. Americans have seen her as First Lady, U.S. Senator and Secretary of State. Whether one likes her or not, she’s a brand everybody knows and she offers few surprises. (That doesn’t mean she hasn’t changed her position in reaction to Bernie pulling her left. Nonetheless, her basic political style is familiar to all Americans.) This would appeal to Sentinels with their appreciation for tradition and predictability. However, during this particular election season, being known may not be all it’s cracked up to be. People seem to be looking for change and her “sameness” might be spoiling her attempts to close deal against more revolutionary Bernie in the primaries.

However, as far as the data for Roles go, Hillary supporters were more likely to be Explorers at a higher percentage. She is unique among the five candidates in that way. During the first draft of this writing, she was more represented by the Sentinel personalities, who now hold second place. Explorers tend to like and follow trends. They are not afraid to shift their views if there is a practical reason to do so. Is it possible that Hillary picked up more Explorers as her delegate numbers began to climb? In the eyes of some, her being ahead perhaps makes her the more viable candidate.

Either way, the people with the two Roles most likely to support Hillary are Observant (Explorer and Sentinel). We can juxtapose this with Bernie’s two highest Roles being Intuitive (Diplomat and Analyst). This might suggest a difference in the world-views of the two camps.

There is something specific and practical in what she offers on the campaign trail. Hillary often asserts that Bernie is “good at diagnosing the problem but doesn’t offer many specific solutions.” She tends to point to particular programs that she supports. In fact, sometimes pundits accuse her of being too much of a stiff political administrator or wonk rather than a passionate campaigner with big ideas. However, the people with Observant personality types would be interested in just those specifics.

The widest trait gap in this poll of Hillary supporters is between the Introverted and Extraverted traits. This is also reflected in the Strategies with the two Extraverted Strategies being significantly higher than the Introverted Strategies. Hillary tends to talk about social issues on a different, more personal level than either Bernie or Trump. She presents herself as a defender of the downtrodden. She inevitably says something similar to, “It breaks my heart when I see (fill in a description of a group who is suffering)... “ during a stump speech.

Perhaps this is why she attracts more Extraverts. These personalities may identify with her emphasis on connection to people in the community. Combine this with the Feeling trait, which Hillary attracts more of in a small but significant amount over Thinking, and it all suggests she has some pull on those with a particular type of social consciousness.

The Sanders Supporter

In our poll, Bernie Sanders is the candidate with the highest percentage of supporters. Again, our mini-tests are not designed to reflect the national polls and primary results which have Bernie behind Hillary (at this writing). While our respondents are self-selected and may not reflect the national sentiment, there is still plenty we can glean from our results.

Those who follow Bernie have perhaps the most distinct personalities in our poll. We can assume that the greater the gap between personality traits who support a candidate, the more distinct the personalities of the supporters. The closer the trait dyads are to being the same percentage, the less likely they are to reflect as strong “type” among his supporters. For example, if Extraverts are 13% and Introverts are 13.5%, there really isn’t much of quantifiable distinction. However, if Extraverts are 20% and the Introverts are 10%, that paints a clearer picture.

By that standard, Bernie’s supporters have quite a distinct personality. If we look at the trait dyads, he has the support of 12.35% more Introverts than Extraverts, 20.64% more Intuitive than Observant, 11.60% Prospecting more than Judging, and 15.30% more Turbulent than Assertive.

While it may be helpful for a politician to know his audience and to have a type of follower that he or she can play to, it can also indicate less general appeal. After all, the final goal is to appeal to as many as possible in the general election. It’s a simple fact that, in the general election, a politician needs wide appeal. As we can see from the aggregate trait scores of over 4 million respondents in the U.S. personality profile, Americans tend to be more Observant than Intuitive, more Judging than Prospecting, and more Assertive than Turbulent. Those differences may have contributed to Bernie’s struggles in the primary.

Examining the other candidates using the same measure, the gap between the two poles of the dyads is generally confined to single digits. That we have more Bernie supporters than others in our poll may account for some of this difference, but not all. Bernie’s followers are the most clearly distinct in our study.

But what personality type is that? In a nutshell, they are more likely to be reflective individuals who tend to be open-minded. They are Intuitive visionaries enamored with future possibilities. The word “socialist,” a commonly disparaged label in American politics, doesn’t bother these non-conformists at all. They don’t mind Bernie calling himself a “democratic socialist.” Their Prospecting trait keeps them from being locked into the status quo. Change is not only welcomed but desired as they project their own Turbulent need to improve into the election process. They may at times be a bit defensive and perhaps even thin-skinned as a cloaked expression of their own self-doubt. Paradoxically, however, these deficits may help fuel their drive for success as these personalities work to prove themselves despite their sensitivities and concerns.

Considering that Bernie is calling for radical over incremental change, it’s not surprising that he would attract people with these traits. They are more inclined to join a political revolution like Bernie’s, than an incremental change like Hillary promises. They are dreamers and they consistently seek “the next best thing” to make their lives better. They probably do this in the other parts of their lives as well.

Those who choose Bernie either as their first or second choice are represented by the Feeling trait at a higher percentage than the Thinking trait. This probably accounts for their interest in income equality and other issues of larger social justice. However, with the Introverted preference of Bernie’s followers, this compassion might feel more philosophical than Hillary’s hands-on variety that highlights specific programs. Some would argue that Bernie’s programs, like free education and universal healthcare, are more ideas than actual plans. That may not be the reality, but it is true that Introverted personality types are not as likely to jump into the fray themselves as quickly as Extraverts. They can be pretty happy just batting around good ideas and pondering compassionate acts from a distance.

Bernie is interested in political and economic revolution. His main theme is about getting money out of politics and promoting income equality. In other words, he’s into social change. His popularity among Diplomats attests to this. They are the group most likely to get behind a revolution in their passion for making the world a better place. Analyst personalities, the second highest group, are likely to be attracted by the systemic change Bernie advocates. After all, Analysts relish dissecting systems to discover how to make them more effective in the end.

On the other end of the spectrum, Sentinels are the least likely to endorse him. They are happiest with tradition and the way things have always been. Many Sentinels probably see Bernie’s socialism as “un-American.” Not only would they not likely vote for Bernie, but the things he stands for may be unsettling to some of these personality types.

The Trump Supporter

As wild cards go, Donald Trump, in the 2016 election cycle, is the wildest possible card. Leaving a trail of insults wherever he goes, it seems he can do nothing wrong. He is gaffe-proof. Those who love him don’t seem to mind what he does or who he offends. (He famously implied that POWs were losers for getting caught. He prefers soldiers who don’t become prisoners of their enemies. Many thought Trump saying that ushered in the end of his presidential run. It didn’t.) He’s made being “politically correct” the worst possible thing a person can be. “Politically incorrect” applause lines are the keys which open the hearts of those who fill arenas to see him. Many have noted that this reality show star knows how to manipulate the media like no other candidate. But, does that all add up to a President Trump? Well, just a few days ago, he earned the number of delegates necessary to make him the Republican candidate over all others who ran in the GOP primary.

Trump is a sensation among a lot of people. But who are they? As far as personality traits go, he is perhaps second only to Bernie Sanders in having followers with distinct characteristics. The gaps between the trait dyads are larger than most the other candidates (except Sanders). For example, 15% of the Observant people are in his camp as opposed to only 9.65% of the Intuitive people. This difference suggests something about his followers’ approach to the world and the things to which they pay attention. But if the gap were only 1%, the Observant trait would be less defining. That he appeals to such a well-defined group in certain categories might explain why many, even in his own party, have been reluctant to get behind him. He may not be for all tastes. (Based on supporters’ personality traits alone, the same can be said about Bernie and less so Hillary.)

The Sentinel group is the largest among his followers. His supporters are Extraverted more than Introverted (by 4.22%, or +45% in relative terms), Observant more than Intuitive, Thinking more than Feeling (by 6.68%, or +88%), Judging over Prospecting (by 3.41%, or +38%) and Assertive more than Turbulent (by 7.04%, or +94%).

So, what does this suggest about followers of The Donald? If you consider the Trump’s stump speech, he talks about getting things done. According to him, he’s the master negotiator who will pull everyone, foreign and domestic, in line with what is best for America. He says he’s above the trappings of politics and that he will not caught up in the stalemate that is Washington.

Trump’s talk might warm the hearts of many Sentinel personality types – particularly those with the Thinking trait. They are all about accomplishing things. Someone who seems genuinely willing to get into the trenches and bring about results will be more likely to win their allegiance. Most of Trump supporters say they accept as true that he says what he thinks and that he will get things done. Because of this, they stick with him despite his well-documented gaps in his knowledge, statesmanship, character, and experience. “It’s not so much what he says, but how he says it,” his supporters will tell those who ask. They often admit Trump is flawed in many ways – yet it doesn’t matter. They have faith in his determination and his energy which seems enough for them. The “take charge” spirit can be appealing to Sentinels.

That the Thinking trait dominates over the Feeling trait among his followers suggests why many of them might tolerate his divisive style. People with the Thinking trait are more likely to look for results rather than harmony. These personalities may not care so much that Trump is the insult comedian of politicians and that he seems to be callous toward certain people. They’re more concerned with him getting the job done and if he has to break some eggs to make that soufflé, that’s alright by them.

By elimination, it makes sense that the Diplomats would be the group least likely to support him. These personality types are known for their empathy and decision-making based on achieving harmonious ends. They often embrace social causes and look for the positive potential in people. Trump’s remarks about temporarily banning Muslims from the country and rounding up 11 million undocumented immigrants wouldn’t sit well with this group. They likely flinch at his harsh rhetoric denigrating other people.

The other thing to note about Sentinels in this context is that they are traditionalists who look to the past for guidance. These personalities are more likely than any other Role to be conservatives. Simply consider Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again.” That hearkens back to a time (some would say a mythical time) when the U.S. was a better place filled with better people. Various polls suggest that Trump appeals to members of the white middle-class who feel disenfranchised due to globalization, job loss, wage disappointment, and changing U.S. demographics. Generally speaking, Sentinels may be comfortable returning to a simpler time. They might have a sense that there is something reliable and predictable to be found in that time when America used to be great. (Can anyone name a particular decade?)

People Mastery is the Strategy that combines enthusiasm and sociability with a confident assertiveness. It is also the Strategy containing the highest percentage of Trump supporters in our survey. (However, please keep in mind that 83% of other respondents who identify with People Mastery say they support someone who is not Trump.)

It’s easy to see why some with this Strategy might get on board with Trump. He brands himself as confident and world-shaking in every way. He loves words and phrases like “huge,” “I’m the best (fill in the blank),” “Nobody would be better at (fill in the blank),” “I will make them (do something),” “I’m the biggest (gun rights advocate, etc...) there’s ever been.” Those with the People Mastery traits like to feel they should and can influence their worlds. Selling himself as bigger than life, Trump paints himself as someone who will do big, dramatic things. This would speak to those personalities who feel confident and have a need to act upon that confidence.

People who identify with the People Mastery traits bring many styles to the table. Other traits and life circumstances offer mitigating factors that make each person with this Strategy unique. They are their own person. However, if a fiction writer were to create an extreme caricature of People Mastery based on the Strategy alone, they might come up with a character who resembles Trump. The downside to extreme self-assurance can be an overheated confidence. This can serve as an obstacle to seeing problems or weaknesses with one’s own thinking or actions. As wonderful as it is to have confidence, there can be an unrealistic downside to it if one loses perspective.

For example, Trump wants to wall off the vast southern border of the United States. That’s a very confident vision which would be a massive undertaking even if he could get Congress to agree. But that’s not enough. He goes a step further. He claims he’s going to get the country on the other side of the wall to pay for the structure. It doesn’t matter that the wall’s purpose is to slam the door on the Mexican people. He promises that after that insult, they will pay for it out of their own pockets. One might rightly argue that he might get a wall or part of a wall up. But the chances that Mexicans will pay for it is slim. Perhaps this is an example of overheated confidence where one loses perspective. There are limitations even to something as great as confidence.

The Cruz Supporter

Ted Cruz rolled into the U.S. Senate as a Tea Party Republican in 2013, championing conservative issues. These included “restoring” the Constitution, Second Amendment rights, immigration and securing borders, religious liberty, and others. At once, he created controversy by promoting a failed government shutdown and other expressions of unhappiness with the federal government. His politics are peppered with fundamental Christian principles. He won favor among his base by attacking senior “establishment” members of his own party in congress. While disliked inside the DC Beltway, Cruz was beginning to receive acceptance from that same establishment as an alternative to an even more disliked Donald Trump. Then he suspended his campaign because the votes were just not there.

The personality traits that are more pronounced among Cruz supporters are the same as those of Republican Trump’s and Kasich supporters (with one exception – see the Kasich section below). They are more likely to be Extraverted, Observant, Thinking, Judging and Assertive.

Cruz’s followers fall into the Role of Sentinel more than the other three Roles. And as we know, not all Sentinels are conservative. However, conservatives are likely to feel more comfortable with the traditional, predictable, and orderly characteristics that define Sentinel personality types.

Also, the Strategy preferred most by Cruz supporters is People Mastery followed closely by the Confident Individualist. Both Strategies have the Assertive component which suggests confidence in one’s self. This might extend to their political stances and may be one reason that they are attracted to Cruz’s non-compromising style. The surer a person is of their positions, the less likely they are to give in to what opponents think is better. (However, having made this observation, it should be noted that People Mastery also is the Strategy with the highest percentage for Trump and Clinton.)

There are some libertarian features to Cruz’s positions that call for more individual rights and a stricter interpretation of the Constitution. From this springboard, he rails against what he perceives as the socialistic and anti-Christian tendencies of the left.

Of course, while all of politics is, at least in part, about standing up against someone with whom you disagree, Cruz has made that foundational to his political discourse. While he is certainly “for” things, he is more likely to highlight what and who he is against. This exacerbates the “us versus them” view that rampant in the not so United States.

Someone who prefers an Assertive Strategy might feel comfortable enough, depending, of course, on the specifics, with such a division. They are less reliant on the opinions of others and would be less bothered by someone disagreeing with them. On the other hand, the Turbulent personalities are more concerned with the influence and approval of other people. For this reason, they would be negatively affected by such an adversarial dynamic. This doesn’t mean that Turbulent people are never adversarial. They just won’t handle it as deftly.

The Kasich Supporter

During his career in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Ohio State Senate and as the governor of Ohio, John Kasich has proved himself a strong conservative. However, standing next to his Republican opponents, he appears much more moderate. He is by far the candidate who is least contentious, and even Trump left him alone until close to the end of his run. (And even at that point, Trump’s biggest complaint seemed to be that he didn’t like how Kasich ate on camera – not exactly a profound policy debate.) Either Kasich is too good-natured to have provoked others, or he is not seen as much of a threat. He remained uncontroversial throughout his campaign until he suspended it in May.

Personalities with the Observant and Judging traits followed Kasich more than those with the Intuitive and Prospecting traits. While progressives are sometimes among the ranks of Sentinels, the group’s members pride themselves on order (stability) and tradition. This aligns with a mainstream version of conservatism. Kasich appeals more to the same personality traits as his fellow Republicans with one exception. His followers are more likely to rely on the Feeling trait over the Thinking trait for making decisions. Likewise, Clinton and Sanders supporters also prefer the Feeling trait over Thinking trait, albeit to a greater degree.

This might suggest why Kasich stayed so far behind his opponents in the race. Perhaps the Republican electorate has no taste for one who might appeal even by a small amount to those with the Feeling trait during this cycle. Perhaps he was too “Democrat” for them. He gave hugs to down-and-out people who came to his rallies. Kasich campaigned as a living, breathing argument for the existence of the compassionate conservative. The decided front-runner, Trump, takes a tough stance of topics with little regard for who he offends or rejects. Kasich might have been out of step with this more popular sentiment. Not that Kasich hasn’t embraced some markedly conservative policies as governor. But he does so in a “kinder, gentler” way, to quote former President George H.W. Bush. This might not be a winning season for Republicans who prefer the Feeling trait.

When we look at the Roles, the Role with the highest percentage of people supporting Kasich are the Sentinels. But when compared to the other candidates, he still has the lowest percentage of Sentinel personality types, among both the Republicans and Democrats. Even progressive Bernie Sanders has a higher percentage of Sentinels following him than Kasich does, even though Diplomats are the group that likes Bernie most. So, while they are more likely than any of the other Roles to support Kasich, he doesn’t corner the market on Sentinels by any means. If Kasich, a salt-of-the-earth candidate, does not distinguish himself to any greater degree than this with the salt-of-the-earth Sentinels, perhaps that says a lot about our times, and about his defeat.

What’s Next?

Do the trends described in this article align with your personal preferences? What do you think are the main reasons behind them? Please share your thoughts below! And then in the next article of this series, we will talk about what issues matter most to different personality types when deciding which candidate to support.