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Our Presidential Candidates’ Peculiar Personalities

A final, election-day comparison of Clinton and Trump.

By Tom Jacobs


(Photo Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

Although the presidential candidates Americans are choosing between today differ on many important issues, the election has been dominated by its clash of personalities. A popular consensus has formed that Hillary Clinton is circumspect and calculating, while Donald Trump is volatile and narcissistic.

But what do the experts say? To find out, Canadian researchers Beth Visser of Lakehead University, and Brock University’s Anthony Volk and Angela Book, surveyed 10 psychologists, all of whom had doctoral degrees and were trained in a sophisticated method of analyzing one’s personality.

Needless to say, their analysis was limited to the candidates’ public personas — which presumably reflect the aspects of themselves they wish to put forward. Nevertheless, their conclusions weren’t exactly complimentary — especially for Trump.

“His personality ratings were more in line with that of people scoring high on psychopathy and narcissism,” the researchers write in the journal Personality and Individual Differences. “These very anti-social traits make it curious that people support Trump for the American presidency.”

A psychopath as president? What could go wrong?

The psychologists involved are all experts at the HEXACO personality model, which “proposes that there are six rather than five personality factors (as in traditional models): Honesty-Humility, Emotionality, Extroversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Openness to Experience,” the researchers note.

“These very anti-social traits make it curious that people support Trump for the American presidency.”

Each of those is broken down into more specific traits: For instance, “Honesty-Humility” encompasses sincerity, fairness, greed avoidance, and modesty. The 10 psychologists rated each candidate on all of them, and the researchers tallied their scores.

“As expected, both candidates were relatively low in Honesty-Humility, with Clinton being ‘low’ and Trump being ‘exceptionally low,’” they report. “Trump was seen as being very low in sincerity, fairness, and greed avoidance, and exceptionally low in modesty. Clinton received ratings of normal on fairness and greed avoidance, low on sincerity, and very low on modesty.”

Just to thoroughly scare us, the researchers compared the candidates’ profiles with those of people who score high on the “dark personality traits,” which are associated with narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism.

“Clinton was low on honesty-humility and emotionality, scoring in the normal range for agreeableness, and high for conscientiousness,” they report. “This suggests that of the Dark Triad traits, Clinton most closely resembles a Machiavellian personality, which seems consistent with the public’s perception of her as a career politician who calculates what needs to be done to succeed.”

On the other hand, “Trump was rated as exceptionally low on honesty-humility and agreeableness, very low on emotionality, and low on conscientiousness. These results suggest that Trump’s public persona most closely resembles the Dark Triad traits of being both narcissistic and psychopathic.”

So Trump really is an outlier — and not in a good way — while Clinton is more typical of a successful politician. But the researchers add an interesting insight that helps explain why so many voters are uncomfortable with her.

“The first female presidential candidate may have more in common with the personality of the many men who have been presidential candidates than she does with average female voters,” they write. “The gender abnormality of her traits may make her appear particularly unusual, especially in relation to stereotypically female traits, such as humility, empathy, and emotionality.”

In other words, she doesn’t meet the preconceived notions so many people still hold of how a woman should act and feel.

This sort of analysis could be influenced by political bias, and seven of the 10 psychologists who did the rating reported they were politically liberal (three others were centrists). But Volk and his colleagues point to their ratings of both candidates as “very low in sincerity” as a strong signal of their objectivity. Partisans almost always feel their own candidate is sincere, while the other is a liar.

So there you have it: One candidate whose personality is problematic, and another whose traits are deeply troubling. If you somehow still haven’t made up your mind between them, perhaps you should give up on finding one you like, and pay closer attention to the policies they would implement.