“Personality and Politics: Obama For and Against Himself”

By Benjamin Knoll, Ph.D.
Information Knoll blog
February 5, 2012


I just finished [Personality and Politics: Obama For and Against Himself] written by political psychologist Stephen Wayne. … The author provides an overview of Obama’s key personality traits and then attempts to explain the key decisions of the Obama presidency in light of those traits.

In a nutshell, Wayne describes the following personality characteristics:

  • Extreme self-discipline and self-restraint, combined with a very competitive spirit
  • Extreme ambition and confidence, bordering on vanity and arrogance
  • A driving need for consensus and finding common ground
  • Pragmatic. “He keeps his eye on the doable, not necessarily the optimal.” “He gets frustrated with ideologues [on both ends on the political spectrum] with whom he finds it difficult to reason.”
  • Risk-averse, cautious, and deliberate
  • “Rigor, logic, and rationality … guide his thought process.” So much so that he has explicitly stated that decisions should be made based on logic and evidence, not emotions.


As I’ve blogged about before (here, here, and here), most voters in presidential elections ultimately make decisions based on partisanship, not on which candidate has the set of preferable personality characteristics. So candidate personality, to me, is not overly useful in explaining who wins presidential elections (although it is helpful when it comes to primary elections). However, personality explains a lot about how a president will govern and make decisions once in office.

Also, as I’ve blogged about before (see here), these characteristics of Obama’s personality are not all that different from those displayed by the current GOP front-runner, Mitt Romney [link to contrary analysis on this site added]. …