Personality and Politics
As mentioned in chapter 1, personality is a central concept in psychology. For this reason, personality is placed at the base of the Political Being's brain, representing its roots and, therefore, the most fundamental element. Personality not only affects how people think and behave in the political arena, but it is also affected by the life experiences of individuals. This chapter considers some central questions about personality addressed in political psychology, including such questions as: How does personality affect political behavior? How deep must we go in understanding the development of a person's personality in order to understand their political inclinations (to the unconscious or to more surface, conscious traits and motivations)? What personality characteristics are most politically relevant? Are people completely unique, or do they share personality traits in various combinations, making individuals more or less similar in their political behavior? How should we study personality, because we cannot very well put a political figure on the couch and ask them questions?
The study of personality and politics is the oldest tradition in political psychology (Adorno, Frenkel-Brinswick, Levinson, & Sanford, 1950; Lasswell, 1930, 1948; Leites, 1951). Personality as a concept has been used to evaluate a wide variety of political behaviors, from the psychology of political leaders to psychopathologies of people who have committed politically motivated atrocities (such as Hitler and the Holocaust), to the average citizen and the role personality factors play in attitudes toward race and ethnicity, interest in politics, and willingness to obey authority. However, most studies employing personalitybased frameworks focus on the impact of the characteristics of leaders on major decisions and policy-making issues, such as leader–advisor relations. In fact, the studies of political personality and political leadership have developed conjointly in political psychology. As a result, seeking to separate political personality from political leadership research is problematic in any textbook on political psychology.
This chapter discusses some of the broader theoretical arguments about personality and its affect on political behavior. We begin with some of the central questions about the role of personality in political behavior, then turn to the study of personality in psychology and look at some of the major scholars and approaches to personality from the psychological perspective. Next we present an overview of some of the ways in which personality in politics, and particularly personality factors relevant to political leadership, have been studied. The portion of the Political Being emphasized in this chapter is, of course, the personality circle, but you can also see the links between personality and cognition, as well as the impact of personality on interactions with people in the political environment—us and them in the Political Being diagram.
Despite the central role personality plays in psychology, political science, and political psychology, coming to an acceptable definition of personality is problematic, with research in psychology and political science each tending to focus (and define) the concept quite differently. As Ewen (1998) points out, within the discipline of psychology, “there is no one universally accepted definition of'personality'” (p. 3), nor is there any one recognized theory of