Profiles in Personality 

Better ideas.
Sept. 27 2000 3:00 AM

Profiles in Personality 

Everyone is a "type," psychologists tell us. So just what boxes do Bush and Gore belong in? 

"You like me, you really like me!"—George Bush or Al Gore, Nov. 7, 2000

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Emily Yoffe Emily Yoffe

Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. 

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George W. Bush has always been able to charm people; Al Gore has always been able to leave them a little uncomfortable. This, until the last few weeks, has been the underlying selling point of the Bush presidential campaign. But now Bush's strategy to love-bomb America is fading in the face of the most unexpected surge in Gore likability. ("Mr. Bush's advisers say that he can no longer count on questions of personality and character to carry him into the White House."—the New York Times, Sept. 16, 2000. "In July, fewer than half—45 percent—of voters surveyed said Gore had 'an appealing personality.' Today, 55 percent see Gore that way."—the Washington Post, Sept. 8, 2000.)

Since who has a better personality is a key issue of the campaign, and we're talking about the president of the United States, shouldn't some rigor be applied to our selection of Mr. Congeniality? So, I have applied some. Using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which categorizes people into one of 16 distinct personality types, I have assessed the personalities of the two candidates. (This is journalism—I don't have to ask their permission or be qualified to perform the analysis.) Each is an exemplar of their particular type—and let's just say they'd hate each other even if they weren't opponents.

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The Myers-Briggs test was devised by a mother-daughter team, Katharine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers, to create a practical application of psychiatrist Carl Jung's belief that personality is composed of four poles of preferences—the most famous being extravert (E) and introvert (I). (Click here for a detailed explanation of the preferences.) The test is widely given by corporations (including Microsoft), schools, and governments—the U.S. military loves it. It's used for everything from helping employees and students gain self-insight to putting together complementary and effective teams. Given Gore's personality type, which loves theories and systems, he's undoubtedly taken it. Any system to categorize people can be dismissed as little better than astrology, and Bush, whose personality type loathes introspection, would probably call it that. But for decades people have been surprised how well the Myers-Briggs nails them.

Psychologist David Keirsey has refined the model and come up with his own version of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which he calls the Temperament Sorter. He defines the four poles this way:  

Expressive (E) or Reserved (I)

Observant (S) or Introspective (N)

Tough-Minded (T) or Friendly (F)

Scheduling (J) or Probing (P) (probing here means looking for alternatives)

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In his book Please Understand Me II, he writes that temperament is the traits we were born with, character is the way we use those traits, and intelligence is how well we use them. To find your personality type, take Keirsey's 70-item quiz at keirsey.com. The quiz asks questions such as: "Are you inclined to be a. easy to approach; b. somewhat reserved." (You don't need to have been on the campaign bus to know that Bush would answer a. and Gore b.) "In most situations are you more a. deliberate than spontaneous; b. spontaneous than deliberate." (Gore a, Bush b.) "Facts a. speak for themselves; b. illustrate principles." (Bush a, Gore b.) Using Keirsey's system, Bush is Expressive/Observant/Tough-Minded/Probing, an ESTP. Is he ever. They are charming seekers of excitement who are easily bored, have little tolerance for theory or self-examination, who want to have impact, and can confidently make swift decisions. They are a familiar type because, Keirsey says, they are about 10 percent of the population. The Bush advisers weren't wrong when they decided to sell their guy's personality. People like ESTPs. Americans like to elect them president. According to Keirsey, there were four of them in the last century: Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson.

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