U04: L09 | Individual Differences and Personality of the Presidential Race

The last emphasis in Lesson 08 on individual differences claims that our biodata is “most relevant during hiring and promotion decisions” (Penn State University, 2016).  I find that quite interesting when applying that statement to the biggest job interview of them all – the impending vacancy of the president of the United States.  So, if the previous statement is true, then why is the media (and social media) filled with all sorts of “information” about the candidates’ personalities?  Why isn’t there more time and effort spent on ferreting out the accomplishments (or failures) of these candidate’s past job performances?  Why do we as consumers of media propaganda focus so much on personality and not as much on past performance?  For example, why has the media zoomed out on the Benghazi and email scandals of Hillary Clinton that pervaded the newswires prior to the presidential race thrusting into full swing?  Why has there not been more focus on Donald Trump’s failed business ventures (ending in bankruptcy)?  Even more importantly, (besides John Kasich) why aren’t the candidates focusing more on promoting themselves and how they will perform the presidential duties instead of denigrating each other?

Five-factor model (FFM) of personalities

Could the answer lie in the fact that personality differences influence the ethical leadership abilities of a person, as Penn State (2016)asserts in Lesson 09, and the American public is keenly aware of this fact?  Since we learned about the five-factor model  (FFM) of personality in this lesson and the adjectives used to describe each of the top contenders’ five personality traits, I decided it would be fun and interesting to do an informal (unscientific) poll of media searches for such adjectives describing the candidates still in the running for the presidential race.  The five personality characteristics are recognized by the mnemonic CANOE, which represents: Conscientiousness; Agreeableness; Neuroticism; Openness; and Extraversion (Penn State University, 2016).  See the figure.

Five-factor model of personality


The attached Excel file (link) documents my unscientific findings and some notable highlights.

Personality Adjectives of Presidential Candidates


I loosely compiled most every reference to a personality trait or element of biodata that popped up in the random Google searches I performed, following the format “adjectives to describe NAME” for each candidate.  I tried to use only media sources that were somewhat ‘reputable’ (and not all of them are non-biased, I might add) and I didn’t change the verbiage.  If adjectives were grouped together by similarity with slashes (that is, “/”), I left them.

I made a relatively objective assessment of whether the adjective was positive, negative or neither, representing each by a different color for visual effect, and then subsequently tried to (objectively) place only the positive adjectives under each CANOE heading.  Black text represents a negative adjective; red text represents positive; and blue represents a fact or biodata.  In some cases, I had to make a determination about whether the adjective used was intended to be construed as a positive or negative characteristic (e.g. bold); in most cases, I leaned toward making it positive.  Also, if the adjective was a very telling trait for one of the five factors of CANOE, I included it on the chart anyway.  An example is “aggressive”; although it generally has a negative connotation; it was hard to separate from the category of extroversion and may be viewed by some as not being negative.

General observations and points of interest

Some of the more notable findings were:

  • I had to search hard for information about Ted Cruz, John Kasich, and even Bernie Sanders.
  • Most of the websites were focused on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, which was no surprise. However, most off the adjectives about Donald Trump tended to be extreme and negative.
  • On the contrary, there was little information about Ted Cruz; and most of what was found didn’t have an extreme negative slant to it.
  • There was slightly more information on John Kasich, and most if it didn’t put him in a very positive light. If what I read was true, John Kasich’s personality is wildly different on the TV screen (during the debates, for example) than while performing his public service duties, as it is reported that he is very erratic and brusque; a wildly different persona than what he seems to try to portray in being the ‘civil’ candidate.

Notably conspicuous adjectives

Upon examination of the adjectives, these are some interesting tidbits:

  • It is odd that only Ted Cruz was the only candidate with ‘confident’ as a personality trait adjective.
  • Bernie Sanders was the only candidate not described as ‘arrogant’.
  • It is surprising that I didn’t run across any adjectives to describe the neuroticism of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.
  • No adjectives were found which describe Hillary Clinton’s “openness to experience”, besides liberal. I found this odd considering her penchant for attracting less conservative constituent groups.
  • All of the candidates are notably narcissistic to a degree (some more than others), but there was no reference to that in the articles research other than a reference to Hillary Clinton as being self-serving. Further, there is unnervingly no reference to morality or values in the information.

Charisma and pseudo-charisma

Pseudo-charisma is defined as being “the result of a combination of personality traits that can mimic true charisma” (Penn State University, 2016).  The lesson used Bill Clinton, ironically, as an example of someone who, generally deemed charismatic, succumbed to his vices during his leadership in the presidency (Penn State University, 2016). Because the intersection of extraversion and narcissism is thought to be self-confidence (Penn State University, 2016), who among the top five presidential candidates appear now as being self-serving, even before ascending arguably the most power office in the world?

Charisma, as defined in the lesson, is “the combination of dominance, desire to influence, self-confidence, and strong moral values” (Penn State University, 2016). Unfortunately, the candidate field is bleak and filled with negative adjectives, as evidenced by my chart above.  Hopefully, the long, arduous procedure of fleshing out the most qualified candidates through the primary election process will yield the most positively charismatic leader with impeccable qualifications.  (I’m being optimistic!)


Adam, K. (2016, January 18). The many insulting adjectives the British Parliament used to describe Donald Trump. Retrieved March 23, 2016, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/01/18/the-many-insulting-adjectives-used-to-describe-donald-trump/

Ball, M. (2015, April 30). The Unpleasant Charisma of John Kasich. Retrieved March 23, 2016, from http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/04/john-kasich-2016/391772/

Campbell, C. (2015, October 01). 1,000 voters were asked to describe the Democratic candidates with a single word. Retrieved March 23, 2016, from http://www.businessinsider.com/poll-hillary-clinton-bernie-sanders-joe-biden-suffolk

Dougherty, M. B. (2015, July 22). John Kasich would be a great presidential candidate — if he weren’t completely insufferable. Retrieved March 23, 2016, from http://theweek.com/articles/567561/john-kasich-great-presidential-candidate–werent-completely-insufferable

Hill, D. (2015, December 29). The surprising emotion driving Ted Cruz. Retrieved March 23, 2016, from http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2015/12/29/the-surprising-emotion-driving-ted-cruz/

Keith, T. (2015, December 15). Bernie Sanders Has Stuck To The Same Message For 40 Years. Retrieved March 23, 2016, from http://www.npr.org/2015/12/11/459231940/bernie-sanders-has-stuck-to-the-same-message-for-40-years

Lee, P. (n.d.). The 13 Words Voters Use Most to Describe Donald Trump. Retrieved March 23, 2016, from http://www.ijreview.com/2015/10/434945-donald-trump-continues-lead-new-poll-come-word-association-results/

Murphy, P. (2013, August 19). Ted Cruz at Princeton: Creepy, Sometimes Well Liked, and Exactly the Same. Retrieved March 23, 2016, from http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/08/19/ted-cruz-at-princeton-creepy-sometimes-well-liked-and-exactly-the-same.html

Penn State University. (2016). PSY 533 SP16 Lesson 08: Individual Differences [Online lecture.]. Retrieved March 13, 2016, from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1775390

Penn State University. (2016). PSY 533 SP16 Lesson 09: Personality [Online lecture.]. Retrieved March 19, 2016, from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1775390

Rainey, M. (2015, August 27). Weak, Arrogant, Liar: The Top 20 Words Voters Use to Describe Trump, Bush and Clinton. Retrieved March 23, 2016, from http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/2015/08/27/Top-20-Words-Voters-Use-Describe-Trump-Bush-and-Clinton

Stracqualursi, V. (2015, August 27). Poll: ‘Liar’ Most Frequently Associated Word With Hillary Clinton. Retrieved March 23, 2016, from http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/poll-liar-frequently-word-hillary-clinton/story?id=33361629

Taft, V. (n.d.). NYT Reporter Threatened With a List of 11 Words That Are Too ‘Sexist’ To Describe Hillary. Retrieved March 23, 2016, from http://www.ijreview.com/2015/03/281081-clinton-fans-banning-words-call-coded-sexism/



[Untitled representation of the five-factor model of personalities].  Retrieved March 23, 2016 from https://www.pedersenandpartners.com/services/executive-competency-assessment

One Comment

  1. Victoria Patrice Montoya March 26, 2016 at 2:20 PM #

    Hi Amy,
    I really enjoyed your exploration of the candidates in this incredibly informative post. I have wondered the same thing as to why the media focuses so heavily on the personalities of the candidates instead of examining their prior performance. When I’m at an interview for a management position, I’d expect the interviewer to take a close look at my past successes and failures and for my track record to be one of the primary bases on which a hiring decision is made. Having the “right” personality for the job most certainly wouldn’t instantly make me the best qualified candidate to do the job!
    There were definitely some surprises in what you found in your media research. It was interesting to see that it was more difficult to find information about the candidates who are not the bigger personalities in the field, and that descriptions of narcissism were not as prevalent as one might have expected.
    Excellent, and slightly frightening, point about the candidates who already appear self-serving at this point in the process. I also loved the hopeful note on which you ended the post- I admire your ability to remain optimistic after poring over the information out there on the candidates!
    Thanks for a great post!

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