Current Events and the Psychology of Politics

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President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris meeting with their coronavirus advisory board in Wilmington, Del. (Photo: Amr Alfiky / The New York Times)

On November 15, the New York Times offered a “road map” with “four key elements” as a preview to how a President Joe Biden would govern (Want a preview of President Biden? by Katie Glueck and Thomas Kaplan).

Following is a collection of excerpts from the article, with commentary informed by Joe Biden’s personality profile.

Like President Bill Clinton, Joseph R. Biden Jr. is an empathetic extrovert with a sprawling network of friends. Like President George W. Bush, he maintains strict personal discipline.

Biden’s primary personality pattern pattern is Outgoing/gregarious (a measure of extraversion), complemented by a secondary Accommodating/cooperative pattern (of which empathy is a facet). Thus, the Times’ assessment is generally consistent with empirical analysis of Biden’s central personality traits. However, Biden’s personality profile provides only weak support for the Times’ assertion of “strict personal discipline.” Specifically, Biden’s low score on conscientiousness, in conjunction with an elevated outgoing score, suggests a less disciplined tendency — including a somewhat unfocused, impressionistic cognitive style lacking in substantive detail.

1. Joe Biden consults experts, elected officials, and his inner circle

Mr. Biden relied this year on a blend of expert opinion and conversations with elected officials across the country as he formulated his plans to confront the extraordinary public health and economic crises at hand, offering a glimpse of the kinds of input that may influence his decision-making as president. … Yet for all of the expert advice Mr. Biden will have available to him from the White House, his outlook is also influenced, in broad terms, by a core inner circle of aides, advisers and a few family members — namely, his wife and his sister — who have offered counsel to him for decades.

The Times’ assessment is consistent with empirical analysis of Biden’s Outgoing–Accommodating personality composite, which may be characterized as conciliatory extraversion.

2. Joe Biden can be loose with deadlines

People who have worked with Mr. Biden or know him personally describe him as a gut politician in some ways, but one whose instincts are shaped by conversations with close advisers and allies, by peppering aides with questions and by soliciting a range of opinions, whether from experts in a particular field or from trusted friends and supporters across the country.

This description is consistent with Biden’s conciliatory extraversion, in conjunction with a relatively low score on conscientiousness, which implies that Biden may be slow in reaching closure in his decision-making process.

3. At heart, Joe Biden is a man of he Senate

His experience in the Senate defined his political outlook — one that prizes consensus, civility and bipartisanship as essential to at least some progress — and helps explain why he will enter the White House with great respect for Congress. His insistence that he could “lower the temperature” politically was a central part of his pitch throughout the race, and he relished dismissing Democrats who called such an outlook naïve.

This description is as much emblematic of Biden’s personal orientation as a conciliatory extravert as it is of his decades-long service in the U.S. Senate.

4. Joe Biden has a mandate to be Joe Biden

Do expect to see a president who embraces the traditional role of serving as consoler in chief in times of tragedy. Mr. Biden’s ability to connect with people experiencing grief is one of his most distinctive attributes as a politician, following a car accident that killed his first wife and a baby daughter in 1972, and the death of his elder son, Beau Biden, in 2015.

Biden’s “ability to connect with people” is not only “one of his most distinctive attributes as a politician”; it is also a distinctive feature of his stable, enduring personality pattern, independent from the personal tragedy in his life.


Update: May 26, 2021

President Biden’s Fitness to Govern

President Joe Biden leaving the East Room of the White House after a press conference. (Photo: Evan Vucci / AP via Hamodia)

On May 24, 2021, Hamodia — the daily newspaper of Torah Jewry — published an article examining President Biden’s physical and mental capacity to lead (“Is the president fit to serve?” by Rafael Hoffman)

The article quotes Dr. Stuart Jay Olshansky, professor of public health at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who analyzes the longevity of presidents; Dr. Nir Barzilai, director of Albert Einstein College of Medicine’s Institute for Aging Research; Tobe Berkovitz, associate professor of advertising at Boston University, who has worked as a media consultant for Democratic candidates; Dr. John Martin-Joy, author of Diagnosing from a Distance — a study of the history and ethics of the Goldwater Rule — who teaches psychiatry at Beth Israel-Deaconess Medical Center and Mt. Auburn Hospital in the Boston area; and Aubrey Immelman of the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics, whose commentary is excerpted below.

Aubrey Immelman, an associate professor of psychology at Saint John’s University in Minnesota, published a personality study of candidates in the 2020 election that identified President Biden as having a propensity toward “flexibility, compromise, and an emphasis on teamwork.” Yet it also noted that his tendency to be conciliatory leaves him “vulnerable to manipulation by pressure groups.”

Professor Immelman expressly avoided hypothesizing as to how his observations bear on the president’s mental health, but noted that his early actions were partially incongruous with the personality study.

“From my nonpartisan personality-in-politics perspective, the most puzzling aspect of President Biden’s first 100 days in office has been my observation that his political behavior has been more activist and less conciliatory than predicted by my personality profile, which is based on data collected since Mr. Biden’s run for president in 2007,” he said.

Read the full report

Related reports on this site

The Personality Profile of 2020 Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden (Aug. 18, 2020)

The Political Personality of 2020 Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden. Working paper, Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics, St. John’s University/College of St. Benedict, August 2020. Abstract and link for full-text (22 pages; PDF) download at Digital Commons:


The Personality Profile of 2020 Democratic Vice-Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris (Sept. 5, 2020)

The Political Personality of 2020 Democratic Vice-Presidential Nominee Kamala Harris. Working paper, Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics, St. John’s University/College of St. Benedict, September 2020. Abstract and link for full-text (26 pages; PDF) download at Digital Commons:

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