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.

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Ferguson, Mo.: Hey, Emily. Thanks for bringing your expertise to this weighty issue. I'm an INTF. Does that make me more likely to prefer another INTF, or just the reverse? What type has proven to be the best predictor of presidential competence, not to mention leadership? (Are they able to work backward to a Wilson or Lincoln or Teddy Roosevelt and see what category they would have been in?) Thanks.

Emily Yoffe: As far as types preferring other types, yes people of the same type can understand each others' perspective very well, but also drive each other crazy because they see their flaws magnified. Corporations who put groups together like to mix it up—you need some types who will say, "We need to preserve our traditions" and some who will say, "We can't keep doing things this way!" There is no perfect presidential type. A lot depends on what the times demand.

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New Hampshire: Hi Emily. I really enjoyed your article, but I thought you had a type off. I think Obama is more of an ENFJ—the best communicators of the group. I know that he said he's messy with paperwork, but judgers frequently say they are disorganized because they have such high standards. Clinton was definitely right on. I don't know enough about McCain to make a distinction. Thanks.

Emily Yoffe: That's possible. I was taking him at his word that his desk is a mess and if you hand him a piece of paper he'll lose it. Not a very "J" trait—which usually indicates someone who thrives on order and schedules. But even if you're right, he's still an Idealist, which is the overarching type.

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Lake Tahoe, Calif.: This article seems to say much more about Yoffe's opinions than the three candidate's personality profiles. Teddy, FDR and JFK are the same type of personality as McCain, and yet you characterize him with clear implications of dangerous risk instead of the leadership and charisma they possessed? Obama is closest to Honest Abe, but he's nothing but a rare, clueless dreamer? Instead of a thinly veiled promotion to vote Hillary, why didn't you just come out and say it?

Emily Yoffe: Other people thought my portrait of Hillary was too negative! Each type has its pluses and minuses—there is no good or bad type. The FDR, JFK type are dynamic and active. That means they can get you out of trouble, or get you into trouble.
I thought it was interesting that today's New York Times story about the McCain scandalette quoted a friend saying McCain could be imprudent and reckless—typical traits of the Artisan!

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New York: Emily, what is your personality type?

Emily Yoffe: I'm an ENTP—a difficult personality type. My husband's favorite line in the description of my type: "The ENTPs mate can find their one-up, one-down style of conversation rather wearying."

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Hong Kong, China: Emily, has the U.S. ever had a president who was an "I" (Introvert) personality type? If so, how did that affect their electability and performance?

Emily Yoffe: Yes, there have been I—introverted presidents. Thomas Jefferson was an INTP "The Architect." In the piece I did in 2000, I concluded Al Gore was also an INTP. Introverts are more unusual in politics and I think they probably have a harder time today than in Jefferson's day in running for office.

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Boston: "Grand theories are not for the ESTP." I don't get it—both McCain and Bush are said to be ESTP. How does this personality trait square with Bush's "freedom agenda," which has almost messianic, grand-theory tones to it?

Emily Yoffe: The ESTPs, who are Artisans, are not driven by ideology. That doesn't mean any particular type can't have strongly held views. But don't you think Bush is more about taking bold action to change the world than about bringing his long-held philosophical beliefs to fruition?

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New York: Let's get this out of the way at the get-go: You are not aware whether any of these candidates has sat down and actually taken this test or any other psychological profile, and are also unaware of any results from said testing, correct?

Emily Yoffe: That's correct. And given what I have concluded about their personality types, I think only Obama, who is an ENFP, which makes him a deeply introspective idealist, would be really interested in the personal and theoretical dimensions of this. McCain would probably say, "I don't have time for this junk."