Emily Yoffe discusses her Myers-Briggs assessment of the candidates' personalities.

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
Feb. 21 2008 12:55 PM

Lots of Personality

Emily Yoffe takes readers' questions on her Myers-Briggs assessment of the candidates.

Slate writer Emily Yoffe was online on Feb. 21 on Washingtonpost.com to take readers' questions on her assessment of the candidates' personalities using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. An unedited transcript of the chat follows.

Emily Yoffe: Hello. I'm Emily Yoffe of Slate. I'm here to discuss my piece, which looked at the personality types of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain based upon the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. That's a system of looking at personality that comes out of the work of psychiatrist Carl Jung.

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Green Cove Springs, Fla.: Emily, thank you for an excellent article. I found it interesting. I agreed with most of your observations, but not your including JFK in the same group as George W. Bush. I am sure it is probably my bias against Bush, but I would never think he and JFK had any similarities. I would consider JFK as more an idealist than the group you put him in. How could you put someone like JFK, who could inspire you with words, with Bush, who has no concept of words! But an excellent article.

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Emily Yoffe: Thanks. It is important to separate your bias against individuals when looking at type. Artisans, which is the general type of George W. Bush, JFK, and McCain, are all men of action, who want to make bold decisions and have impact. Winston Churchill was also one, and no one beats Churchill for inspiring rhetoric. Remember JFK had a speechwriter, Ted Sorenson (who is working for Obama) who may himself be an Idealist.

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New York: I would be interested to see a breakdown of leaders'/CEOs' personality types, and which are the most common/least common. I'm ESTJ, by the way.

Emily Yoffe: You win! ESTJ "The Supervisor" are 28 percent of top executives according to one study, only beat out by ISTJ (your more reserved counterparts) at 32 percent. You are all Guardians, the reliable, responsible people who keep institutions going.

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Huntington, W.Va.: Why do you refer to Sen. Clinton as "Hillary" while refering to Sens. Obama and McCain by their surnames? If you wanted to avoid any confusion when referencing Bill Clinton, why not simply refer to him specifically when necessary? The article's focus revolves around the current candidates for president. I think your readers could have figured out which Clinton you were referring to.

Emily Yoffe: That's a good point. Over the years, to distinguish the two Clintons, it has become common to use "Hillary." Obviously she decided to go this way herself—look at all her campaign literature. But you're right, at this point it's probably better to consistently use last names.

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Florida: Would not FDR be included in all three groups you highlighted? And isn't that the type of person we really need?

Emily Yoffe: FDR is a "Promoter" an ESTP just like McCain. Both Roosevelts were, as was JFK and LBJ. These people are great in a time of crisis—very decisive and confident. The question is, are the people of action right for all times in history?

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Tokyo: This is a brilliant piece. I'm a political scientist and need to be skeptical; my main worry was that the author might unconsciously have edited the salient characteristics of the three types to fit the candidates. To find out, I should get hold of the original book to get the full predictions and compare for myself—or better yet, get some people to list what they thought were the candidates' chief characteristics, and compare those with the predictions. It would be worth doing (though not by me), as potentially this is some serious social science. Anyway, great journalism, and to a lot of people that trumps academic quibbles.

Emily Yoffe: Thanks so much. Some people wrote in to Slate.com criticizing the article as little better than astrology. But if you look at books that describe the 16 personality types, you can see how different they are from each other. My method was to go through the books and by process of elimination come up with the types. Obviously, in some ways it was easy to make distinctions. Obama's type described a way with words and a "tongue of silver"—that made eliminating Hillary Clinton from that type very easy.

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Washington: This is a fun idea but I was disappointed to see that none of the candidates actually took the personality test. Doesn't that invalidate the entire story? Thanks.

Emily Yoffe: No! This is journalism—I know better than they do what type they are...I agree, it would have been great to get the candidates to fill out the questionnaires, but they're a little busy these days. I think one can make a fair assessment of people much in the public eye and much written about.

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