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Donald Trump’s temperament has emerged as a major campaign issue in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Item: According to a Fox News poll conducted after the first presidential debate (Sept. 26), 59 percent of respondents felt Trump lacked the temperament to serve effectively as president, compared with 67 percent saying Clinton had the right temperament. (“Fox News poll: Clinton ahead of Trump after debate, fear motivating both sides” by Dana Blanton, FoxNews.com, Sept. 30, 2016)

temperament_fox-news-poll_9-29-2016

Item: “By about two-to-one, voters say that their recent conversations about the election have been more about the candidates’ personalities and comments (59%) than about specific issues or policy positions (32%),” according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted June 7-July 5, 2016. (“Few Clinton or Trump supporters have close friends in the other camp” by Pew Research Center, August 3, 2016)

temperament_pew-poll_7-5-2016

Item: “Most voters consider Donald J. Trump a risky choice for president, saying he lacks the right temperament and values,” with Hillary Clinton seen as a safer option, according to a Sept. 13-16 New York Times/CBS News poll. (“Voters’ view of a Donald Trump presidency: Big risks and rewards” by Patrick Healy and Dalia Sussman, Sept. 15, 2016)

Of course, it’s unlikely most poll respondents have an accurate understanding of the technical meaning of the term temperament. Considering the frequency with which the word is pronounced “temperment,” it’s likely many, if not most, voters understand temperament to refer primarily to a person’s temper – in other words, being irritable and prone to outbursts of anger (i.e., how easily someone flies off the handle), as opposed to having a calm, patient disposition.

The real meaning of temperament

Technically, temperament refers to behaviors linked with emotionality (positive vs. negative affect, the optimism–pessimism dimension) and arousability (passivity vs. activity, a low–high-energy dimension). Moreover, temperament emerges very early in life and is likely to have a heritable (inborn) basis.

A simplified explanation, paraphrasing psychologist Theodore Millon, would be that temperament refers to a person’s typical manner of displaying emotion and the predominant character of an individual’s affect (i.e., emotion), and the intensity and frequency with which he or she expresses it.

In practical terms, temperament shares much in common with the notion of “emotional intelligence,” which refers to the ability to recognize and understand one’s own emotions and those of others, and to manage one’s own emotions and influence those of others. This capacity for emotional awareness, empathy, and skillful interpersonal relationships is a critical ingredient of effective leadership.

Trump’s personality profile

An empirical study of Trump conducted at the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics between June 2015 and August 2016, revealed that Trump’s predominant personality patterns are Outgoing/impulsive and Ambitious/exploitative (a measure of narcissism), infused with secondary features of the Dominant/controlling pattern.

Following is an outline of temperamental features of the personality patterns most centrally involved in driving Trump’s political behavior, based on Millon’s (1996) model of personality.

Outgoing (histrionic) pattern: Poor impulse control

Temperamentally, outgoing individuals are emotionally expressive; they are animated, uninhibited, and affectively (emotionally) responsive. Their moods can change quickly, with occasional displays of short‑lived and superficial moods. From a political leadership perspective, the attendant risk is that highly outgoing personalities are predisposed to impulsive actions; they may be over-excitable, capricious, and exhibit a pervasive tendency to be easily enthused and as easily bored or angered, leading to thoughtless, imprudent judgments and rash, even reckless courses of action.

Ambitious (narcissistic) pattern: Knee-jerk response to criticism

Temperamentally, narcissistic individuals are socially poised; at their best they are self-confident, optimistic, and cool and levelheaded under pressure. Though appearing carefree; nonchalant, and debonair, their blind spot is to respond reflexively to personal criticism with annoyance, rage, or anger.

Dominant (aggressive) pattern: Lacking in empathy

Temperamentally, dominant individuals are irritable; they have an excitable temper that they may at times find difficult to control. They tend to be lacking in empathy and are disinclined to experience and express warm feelings, complemented by a volatile temper that flares readily into contentious argument.

Political implications

Regarding the relationship between temper (narrowly defined as one component of temperament) and leadership, political scientist Stanley Renshon, in his 1996 book The Psychological Assessment of Presidential Candidates, asserted that its political implications hinges on five critical questions.

  1. Are the temper outbursts occasional or regular?
  2. Are there particular issues that set off the displays of temper?
  3. Does the candidate easily recover from angry episodes, or does he nurse grudges?
  4. Does the candidate berate or belittle those unlikely or unable to retaliate?
  5. Is the candidate aware of, and does he try to control his temper?

To the extent that outbursts of temper (1) occur regularly; (2) are set off by a broad range of issues; (3) prompt grudges that the candidate cannot let go of; (4) are directed at individuals unlikely or unable to retaliate; and (5) are poorly controlled by a candidate who appears to lack insight, the determination may be made that the candidate is unfit to govern.

Trump’s temperament, beyond its less admirable aspects, also embodies passion and straight-shooting candor. But whatever the deeper meaning and political implications of an unruly temper – character, personality, and temperament are legitimate public issues in determining a presidential candidate’s fitness to lead.

References

Millon, T. (1996). Disorders of Personality: DSM-IV and Beyond (2nd ed.). New York: Wiley.

Renshon, S. A. (1996). The Psychological Assessment of Presidential Candidates. New York: New York University Press.


As published: “A question of temperament: Donald Trump’s fitness to lead”

Trump’s personality raises red flags” by Aubrey Immelman (St. Cloud Times, Nov. 27, 2016) » http://www.sctimes.com/story/opinion/2016/11/26/trumps-personality-raises-red-flags/94335366/

More » The Political Personality of 2016 Republican Presidential Nominee Donald J. Trump. Working paper, Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics, St. John’s University/College of St. Benedict, October 2016. Abstract and link for full-text (31 pages; PDF) download at Digital Commons: http://digitalcommons.csbsju.edu/psychology_pubs/103/

For more information, please consult the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics Media Tipsheet at http://personality-politics.org/2016-election-media-tipsheet/


Related reports on this site

The Personality Profile of 2016 Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump (Aug. 9, 2015)

Trump poster (2016)
Click on image for larger view

Projecting the Winner of the 2016 Presidential Election: The Personal Electability Index (Feb. 29, 2016)

Donald-Trump_Hillary-Clinton_Getty-Images
Getty Images

Donald Trump’s Narcissism Is Not the Main Issue (Aug. 11, 2016)

Confident-Narcissistic_spectrum Sociable-Histrionic_spectrum
© 2015 MILLON®                                             (Click on images for larger view)

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5 Responses to “Donald Trump’s Temperament: Trump’s Fitness to be President”
  1. The Immelman Turn » Blog Archive » Why Donald Trump Will Not Step Down — Personality Identical to Bill Clinton’s Says:

    […] Donald Trump’s Temperament: Trump’s Fitness to be President (Oct. 5, 2016) […]

  2. The Immelman Turn » Blog Archive » Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics Releases Psychological Assessments of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump Says:

    […] Donald Trump’s Temperament: Trump’s Fitness to be President (Oct. 5, 2016) […]

  3. Aubrey Immelman Says:

    Cross-posted from “No one has a clue what kind of president Donald Trump will be” (Dan Balz, Washington Post, Nov. 12, 2016) at https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/no-one-has-a-clue-what-kind-of-president-donald-trump-will-be/2016/11/12/5c05b192-a8e7-11e6-8fc0-7be8f848c492_story.html

    From the article: “One big question ahead is which Donald Trump will emerge after Inauguration Day. Will it be the bombastic Trump of the campaign? … Or will it be the more temperate, subdued and inclusive-sounding Trump? …”

    As a political psychologist, my primary concern regarding Donald Trump leadership prospects is his temperament — that is, behaviors linked with emotionality and arousability.

    In practical terms, temperament is akin to the notion of “emotional intelligence,” which refers to the ability to recognize and understand one’s own emotions and those of others, and to manage one’s own emotions and influence those of others. This capacity for emotional awareness, empathy, and skillful interpersonal relationships is a critical ingredient of effective leadership.

    Fit to lead? The temperament of Donald J. Trump » http://www.immelman.us/news/donald-trumps-temperament-trumps-fitness-to-be-president/

  4. The Immelman Turn » Blog Archive » A Question of Temperament: Donald Trump’s Fitness to Lead Says:

    […] Donald Trump’s Temperament: Trump’s Fitness to be President (Oct. 5, 2016) […]

  5. The Immelman Turn » Blog Archive » The Personality Profile of 2016 Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump Says:

    […] Donald Trump’s Temperament: Trump’s Fitness to be President (Oct. 5, 2016) […]

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