Political psychology has identified six basic personality types that are typically found in the world of public affairs. There are certainly other personality types in any human population, but they lack the psychological traits necessary to produce both interest and success in politics.
No politician is a perfect distillation of any of these types, including the examples mentioned here. Most of people have a preponderance of qualities pointing to a primary type and some qualities of a secondary type. The two often counter-balance each other in successful leaders. Of course, we’ll leave it to you to figure out which two best describe your own political personality.
The Narcissist. Most politicians have at least some narcissism. After all, you have to have a rather inflated image of yourself to believe you deserve power over the lives of others. But the signs of a narcissistic personality are attention-seeking, grandiosity that verges on exhibitionism, and a tendency to scapegoat when things go wrong. Narcissists are extremely convincing liars, and they are the ultimate users – demanding loyalty from others they seldom give in return. They don’t always make the best decisions, but these highly charismatic personalities generally make the best leaders. Examples: Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, Ronald Reagan.
The Obsessive Compulsive. These hard-working, conscientious, and ethical personalities are driven by a need for accuracy. Their biographies and professional capabilities usually outshine their personalities. Indeed, their deliberative decision making and love of complexity makes them extraordinarily good at policymaking, but terrible at leading – particularly in a crisis when quick decisions have to be made with limited and often ambiguous information. In addition, obsessive-compulsives typically go to extraordinary lengths to avoid rocking the boat with their actions. Examples: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, George H.W. Bush.
The Machiavellian. Machiavellian personalities are master manipulators. They walk into a room and immediately begin sizing people up to identify their interests and exploit their personality weaknesses for personal and political gain. Machiavellians focus on the game more than the outcomes. These cool and calculating types are not generally burdened by the ethical qualms that keep others up at night. Winning is everything; the rest is negotiable. Examples: Karl Rove, Rahm Emanuel, Nancy Pelosi.
The Authoritarian. Not to be confused with authoritarian social systems or authoritarian beliefs, the authoritarian personality is quintessentially hierarchical. Authoritarians are sycophantic toward superiors, competitive toward peers, and domineering toward subordinates. They value toughness, believe might makes right, and have contempt for mercy. They also tend to be conservative, sexually prudish, rule-oriented and prejudiced – projecting their own flaws and insecurities onto low-status groups. Examples: Bill O’Reilly, Dick Cheney, John McCain.
The Paranoid. Secretive and suspicious, paranoid personalities perceive hidden meanings in ordinary things and reject evidence which would disconfirm their conspiratorial intuitions. They harbor doubts about the loyalty of even close confidants, and hold grudges sometimes for decades. Their paranoid fantasies serve an important psychological function: ego inflation. After all, if the world is out to get you, you must be a very important person. The paranoid personality is actually compensation for deep feelings of inferiority, often mixed with anger and resentment. Examples: Richard Nixon, Joseph McCarthy.
The Totalitarian. Totalitarian personalities are extremely rare in electoral politics because they demand absolute obedience from underlings, believe in their own infallibility, and wield power through a combination of awe, terror, and the gullibility of their supporters. The hallmarks of a totalitarian are a cult of personality, the rejection of facts that contradict goals and fanaticism. Examples: Adolf Hitler, Kim Jong-il.
David Rosen is the founder of First Person Politics, where he brings clients in politics, advocacy, and consulting the most cutting edge ideas and tools from political psychology.