Lots of Personality
Emily Yoffe takes readers' questions on her Myers-Briggs assessment of the candidates.
New York: Is there any info on the MB types of supporters? Do certain types lean towards certain candidates/parties?
Emily Yoffe: Very interesting question. I would think in general people would be attracted to their own types. Most of the population are either Guardians (Hillary Clinton's type) or Artisans (John McCain's type). And the overwhelming majority of our presidents have been Guardians (George Washington to George H.W. Bush) or Artisans (JFK, George W. Bush). People are probably looking for a reliable stabilizer or a person of action. Obama would be a very unusual presidential type—an Idealist.
Des Moines, Iowa: Dear Ms. Yoffe, I was glad to see something written about these presidential candidates personality styles. Being a life coach familiar with the personality types, I knew Obama (my first and only choice) was an idealist. The more concrete rational thinkers have trouble with idealists because they can't think outside the box, and idealists are excellent in this area, and this visualizing that idealists have is hard for some personality types to grasp. My best political friend and I share an adoration for Obama, and we agree that Obama is what this country needs right now. One of the reasons for the sudden worldwide love for Obama is because people trust him, and I don't think that's true with the other candidates—certainly not Hillary. But thank you for this article. Hopefully it will give the public a better understanding of him and encourage more support for Obama. Have a great day from a true ENFJ! And you know that ENFJs are always right about their judgments!
Emily Yoffe: Well, you make the point raised in the last question. As an ENFJ, you are an Idealist yourself, so are happy to see another one potentially leading the country. His effect on people is so baffling and maddening to the other candidates who see the Idealists uplift as so much hot air. I think there will be a lot of discussion as the months go on about the utility of soaring rhetoric.
Washington: Fascinating article, thank you! I was interested to learn that both Jefferson and Al Gore were INTPs, the same as I am (I'm a veterinarian). Do introverts ever make better politicians than extroverts, or are we doomed by our introversion to be left to other fields? Thanks.
Emily Yoffe: Isn't veterinarian the perfect profession for an introvert—you mostly have to only talk to the animals! I think Al Gore's introversion did hurt him. When he tried to be an ebullient people greeter, the public could feel the phoniness. It's unusual for an introvert to be attracted to politics. Probably those that are are more interested in the governing, back stage parts than in campaigning. I read one recent profile of Gore in which a reporter was traveling with him and the reporter's big suitcase was blocking Gore from some people who recognized him and wanted to come greet him. The reporter went to move his bag and Gore whispered, "No, don't." THAT'S an introvert.
Portland, Ore.: I'm not sure you bothered to go into this during your original research, but as a diehard and disappointed John Edwards supporter, I just kind of wonder what his personality type was, and what that indicated for his leadership style?
Emily Yoffe: I didn't do Edwards, but let's see. He's an E—an extrovert. I think he's an S—a concrete as opposed to an abstract (N) thinker. Although he comes off as being motivated by his feelings, I actually think he's more tough-minded, so T, not F. And I read that he was chronically late on the campaign trail, by a lot, so a P, not a J. So he's an ESTP—same as McCain. Yes, I know that doesn't initially make sense. But I think Edwards is driven by a desire to DO, to be in the arena, make an impact. His desire to help is not driven by Idealism, like Obama, but by a desire for action.
Arlington, Va.: You're attempting something very dangerous—you're psychoanalyzing from afar. I'm an INTJ, but I'm a powerful public speaker and a strong leader—because I have to be. If you watched me work, you never would guess I'm an INTJ. Any chance you've been fooled by the candidates?
Emily Yoffe: No, no chance whatsoever, because I'm an ENTP and I have strong intuitive powers! I agree you can't type someone based on a single encounter. But all three candidates have been in the spotlight for years—some for many years—and there is a great deal of literature about their behaviors and styles. So I feel pretty confident. I did have a big debate about whether Hillary was an introvert or extrovert. I decided on extrovert because she is not one of those people who likes to lock herself in her office for hours just to think. But she's just barely an extrovert, unlike her husband who is totally extroverted.
Silver Spring, Md.: I'm guessing that most of the politicians on Capitol Hill are either Artisians or Guardians. I'm curious to know how you think an administration full of Guardians and Artisians would operate with someone like Obama (Idealist) as president?
Emily Yoffe: Most people are either Artisans or Guardians, and yes politics is mostly divided between them. You raise a fascinating question about how other, more concrete, down-to-earth types would respond over the long haul to an Idealist. I think you can see in the campaign that Artisan McCain and Guardian Clinton find all the rhetoric maddening and are baffled it works. But Obama has also explicitly recognized that he has to get more earthbound or else the whole thing could crash. Thus his recent speeches emphasizing policy proposals.
Washington: Emily, I posted on your Facebook wall, but I'll reiterate here: As a Myers-Briggs apologist and ENFP (the type most likely—because of a fascination with people—to enjoy typing others), I must disagree with your assessment of Hillary. Isn't she more the ENTJ "Field Marshal"? An S never would pen the existential musings of Hillary's college days, and though her language is more direct, policy-oriented and analytically focused (the mark of strong J and T preferences, which also may render her more "masculine" and/or S to the observer), Hillary is still in essence an ideas person. She's just an overbearing one, prone to "sentimental streaks," "self-aggrandizement" and dictatorial means when she feels others aren't realizing her vision effectively enough.
Emily Yoffe: Several people have made the same critique—that Hillary is the more intuitive type—the ENTJ. Yes, she wrote some existential letters as a girl (almost all teenagers, no matter what the type, tend to get existential). But look at her behavior in college: sophomore class president, senior class president. In the summer of 1968 she wasn't marching and hanging out on a commune, she came to Washington for a congressional internship and wrote policy papers on revenue sharing. That is a Guardian, not a Rational! I think the failure of her health care proposal was that she reached outside the comfort zone of her type. She is not a strategist or a diplomat, so when she undertook a grand redesign, it collapsed. She has been much more comfortable and effective as a senator working within institutional structures to make incremental changes—all Guardian behavior.
Emily Yoffe writes Slate's "Human Guinea Pig" and "Dear Prudence" columns. Her articles have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, O the Oprah Magazine, Texas Monthly, the Washington Post, and other publications. She is the author of the book, What the Dog Did: Tales From a Formerly Reluctant Dog Owner.