The Personalities of Presidents as Independent Variables.

[11]  2020. “The Personalities of Presidents as Independent Variables.” Political Psychology. PDF.


The debate about the relative importance of the personality traits of presidents has a long history. Until the mid‐1970s, scholars of the presidency extensively focused on the uniqueness of the individuals that held office. However, the difficulty in capturing presidential personalities and measuring their impact on executive politics led to a significant quantitative shift that focused more on the institutions within which presidents operate. This change produced a long‐lasting divide between researchers interested in the “institutional” presidency and those focused on the “personal” presidency. I propose to integrate both approaches by incorporating insights from differential psychology to treat the personality traits of presidents as independent variables. In support of the argument, I use data from an expert survey that captured psychometric traits of presidents who governed the Western Hemisphere in 1945–2012 to reassess an influential study about Latin American presidents. The results show that adding openness to experience leads to a deeper understanding of presidential approval. I conclude by arguing that measuring the personality traits of all sorts of leaders is necessary to modernize the study of elites.