Obama is a ‘Confident Conciliator’

By Aubrey Immelman
St. Cloud Times
September 8, 2012

At the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte N.C., former President Bill Clinton on Wednesday put Barack Obama’s name in nomination for reelection as president with an impassioned plea that Americans renew Obama’s contract for four more years.

For those voters who have yet to decide whether to let Obama keep the keys to the White House or send him packing, here’s a primer in political prognostication: past is prologue; and personality drives behavior.

Past is prologue

The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. No speech, no campaign promise will fundamentally alter the general tenor of the Obama presidency in a second term.

If you dislike Obama’s first-term agenda or leadership style as president, there’s little reason to cast a vote for Obama in hope of change.

For the nonpartisan or independent voter, the great challenge is to anticipate how the candidate will govern. That task is simplified with an incumbent because the candidate’s track record telegraphs his likely path.

However, the future is always uncertain. Little did we know when we sized up George W. Bush’s fitness for office in 2000 that history would throw us a curveball a year later in the form of Sept. 11.

This is where political psychology earns its keep.

Personality drives behavior

Personality refers to the stable patterns of a person’s motives, thoughts and actions over time and across a broad range of situations. Accurate personality assessment allows us to anticipate a leader’s response to a broad range of contingencies – including those not currently on the political radar.

Equally important, political psychologists have developed predictive models that link a leader’s personality traits to his or her likely performance as chief executive.

Obama is a “confident conciliator” – a leader with a healthy dose of adaptive narcissism and a stronger accommodating tendency than most presidents.


The following generalized expectancies regarding Obama’s leadership style as president can be inferred from his personality profile:

  • Motivation for leading. Obama has extraordinary confidence in his ideas and potential for success, which suggests that at his core he is ideologically driven by a desire to transform society. However, because he is not highly dominant, driven more by a need for achievement than by power for its own sake, he is relatively pragmatic in his efforts to consummate his policy objectives.
  • Leadership orientation. As a confident, ambitious person, Obama tends to be a goal-oriented leader first, motivated primarily by advancing his policy objectives, with only secondary consideration to maintaining good relations among members of his team.
  • Investment in job performance. Obama, despite a seemingly relaxed, casual personal style, is an active, energetic leader highly invested in achieving his policy objectives.
  • Management style. With his high ambition, Obama is inclined to act as a strong advocate, promoting his policy vision and using his powers of persuasion to advance his agenda. However, because of his accommodating tendency, Obama’s activism is tempered by an inclination to act as a consensus builder or arbitrator within his administration and across party lines.
  • Dealing with the legislative branch of government. Obama has the flexibility to behave either cooperatively or competitively in his dealings with members of Congress, depending on his perception of which strategy will prove most effective in achieving the desired result. However, his conciliatory tendency renders him somewhat conflict averse, which fosters a proclivity to remain somewhat aloof and above the fray in heated, highly divisive debates.
  • Media relations. In dealing with the media, Obama is predisposed to maintain cordial press relations, especially if he feels he can influence the press to do his bidding. However, should the press become antagonistic, he is likely to become correspondingly uncooperative, avoidant, or aloof.
  • Public relations. In relating to the public, confident leaders such as Obama typically are involved and active, articulating and defending their policies in person rather than relying on proxies. However, if matters become contentious, Obama’s conflict aversion may induce him to delegate that role to surrogates.

On balance, nothing specific to Obama’s personality profile or leadership style suggests that he deserves to be fired. By the same token, anyone with a preexisting objection to Obama can probably find something in his profile to confirm their prior belief.

This is the opinion of Aubrey Immelman, a political psychologist who specializes in the psychological assessment of presidential candidates. He also was a candidate in the Republican primary for the U.S. House 6th District race. A similar profile of Republican nominee Mitt Romney was published in the Aug. 30 Times.