President Barack Obama greets supporters after speaking at a campaign stop Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012 at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds in Davenport, Iowa. (Photo credit: The Associated Press via St. Cloud Times)
By Aubrey Immelman
St. Cloud Times
October 28, 2012
Anyone who claims to know for sure who’s ahead in the closely contested presidential race — pollsters and pundits included — is stretching the truth.
After President Barack Obama’s lackluster performance in the first debate Oct. 3 in Denver, challenger Mitt Romney surged in the polls. In a mere three weeks in October, Obama’s comfortable margins in national polls — including a double-digit lead in the key battleground state of Ohio — dwindled to a virtual tie, with Romney now edging ahead in some of the national polls and deadlocked with Obama in Ohio.
If Romney wins, the formula I developed to predict the winner in presidential elections prior to Super Tuesday will fail for the first time ever.
The heuristic model, developed in the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics at St. John’s University and the College of St. Benedict almost two decades ago, employs candidate personality traits, as publicly perceived, to predict which contender will resonate most favorably with independent voters who base their choice on the candidate’s personal qualities rather than party political affiliation.
The model works, because the nation is so evenly divided among partisan Republicans and Democrats, essentially yielding the balance of power to political independents and low-information voters.
How it works
My research into the psychology of politics, spanning a quarter century, reveals that voters respond favorably to candidates who are outgoing, self-confident, and dominant; and negatively to voters who are introverted and overly conscientious.
Take Bill Clinton, the top-ranked candidate on my “Personal Electability Index.” Clinton is among the most outgoing, engaging, gregarious personalities I have studied; he thrives on the exhilaration of retail politics, and it shows.
Not only that, but he brims with confidence, is socially poised, and has an ego that can fill a room – rolling with the punches and flourishing amid the cut and thrust of high-stakes politics.
On social dominance, Clinton scores more modestly, but what he lacks in toughness he makes up for with the thickness of his skin.
As for traits that play poorly in politics — introversion and conscientiousness — Clinton barely registers on the personality scale.
Not so for Al Gore, the lowest-ranking candidate on the personality index. His conscientiousness is off the charts, with painstaking meticulousness, obsessive attention to detail, and an at-times self-righteous certitude. Although some of these traits are admirable qualities in a president, on the campaign trail they feed public perception of the candidate as stiff and formal, pedantic and boring.
Moreover, Gore is among the most introverted major-party nominees since Richard Nixon. Introversion can be an asset in the Oval Office, permitting sustained focus, freedom from the shackles of the need to please, and a calm, placid, “no-drama” demeanor. But to voters, excessive introversion comes across as unempathic aloofness — a “wooden” quality that in its most ingrained form makes the candidate seem almost “robotic” — deficient in emotional expressiveness and spontaneity, and seemingly apathetic, with an unexcited, lifeless quality.
Obama vs. Romney
Of the three personal qualities that appeal to voters — extroversion, self-confidence and dominance — Obama trumps Romney on the first two traits, while the third one is a wash.
On the two attributes that diminish the personal attractiveness of candidates in the eyes of voters, neither Romney nor Obama is notably encumbered by introversion, but Romney raises the roof on conscientiousness, which on the campaign trail blows down the house.
In the end, Obama wins on points.
For historical context, here are the personality-based electability numbers for all major-party nominees since 1996, published before Super Tuesday in presidential election years, with the successful candidate or incumbent listed first:
• 2012: Barack Obama 28 (10), Mitt Romney 6
• 2008: Barack Obama 28, John McCain 26
• 2004: George W. Bush 31, John Kerry 9
• 2000: George W. Bush 31, Al Gore (-)17
• 1996: Bill Clinton 37, Bob Dole 15
Does personality matter? You decide.
For more information about how the Personal Electability Index scores were calculated, visit www.immelman.us/news/why-mitt-romney-wont-win/
Personality is remarkably stable after the fourth decade of life. Nonetheless, more out of curiosity than for any pressing purpose, I collected additional personality data on Obama this summer, limited to his term in office. I was startled to discover that his electability score had dropped from 28 to 10 since his 2008 campaign.
Although that number is still marginally higher than Romney’s, a score of similar magnitude in 2008 would have portended a McCain victory in my predictive model.
Something happened. The person America elected in 2008, infused with hope and the promise of change, emerged as a changed man from the Rose Garden in 2012 to defend his title as the world’s most powerful leader.
This is the opinion of Aubrey Immelman, a political psychologist who specializes in the psychological assessment of presidential candidates. He also was a candidate in the U.S. House 6th District Republican primary. His leadership profiles of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama were published in the Aug. 30 and Sept. 8 Times editions.
Aubrey Immelman and Andrew Obritsch in Chicago at the annual scientific meeting of the International Society of Political Psychology to present their research on Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, July 2012.
Related reports on Barack Obama
Barack Obama’s Presidential Leadership Style (Sept. 8, 2012)
A psychological profile of U.S. President Barack Obama, developed at the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics during Obama’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, reveals that the president is a highly confident, moderately accommodating and deliberative, somewhat reserved personality type best described as a confident conciliator.
As shown in the pie chart above, Obama is primarily an Ambitious-confident personality, complemented by secondary Accommodating-cooperative, Conscientious-respectful, and Retiring-reserved features.
Obama’s personality profile provides a stable framework for anticipating his likely leadership style as president if reelected.
Barack Obama’s Leadership Style (Feb. 21, 2009)
Research assistants Sarah Moore and Angela Rodgers presented their research on “The Personality Profile of President Barack Obama: Leadership Implications” at the 6th annual Minnesota Private Colleges Scholars at the Capitol event in the State Capitol rotunda, St. Paul, Minn., Feb. 19, 2009.
Barack Obama’s Personality Profile (Nov. 2, 2008)
Related reports on Mitt Romney
Mitt Romney’s Leadership Style (Sept. 3, 2012)
A psychological profile of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, developed at the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics during Romney’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, reveals that the Republican nominee is highly conscientious, with a personality type best described as a dutiful conformist.
As shown in the pie chart above, Romney is primarily a Conscientious-dutiful personality, complemented by secondary Dominant-asserting, Ambitious-confident, and Accommodating-cooperative features and a minor Retiring-reserved tendency.
Romney’s personality profile provides a stable framework for anticipating his likely leadership style as president, if elected.
Research assistants Amanda Nusbaum and Feiran Chen presented their research on “The Personality Profile of 2012 Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney” at the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, Minn., July 30, 2012.
Personality Matters: Mitt Romney Has Al Gore Problem (Jan. 16, 2012)
Mitt Romney’s Personality Profile (June 2, 2011)
Why Mitt Romney Won’t Win (May 12, 2011)
By Dan Balz
September 29, 2012
Out now are a baker’s dozen forecasts produced by political scientists that predict the outcome in November. …
The election forecasts are in fact predictions, based on various and varied statistical models. Most give the advantage to the president, but the verdict is not unanimous.
The 13 projections are contained in the new issue of PS: Political Science and Politics, which is published by the American Political Science Association. Eight of them project that Obama will win the popular vote; five say the popular vote will go to Romney. But the degree of certainty in those forecasts differs. One projection favoring the president says there is an 88 percent certainty that he’ll win, while two others forecasting Obama say there is only a 57 percent certainty.
James E. Campbell, the department chairman at the University at Buffalo in New York, who wrote the introduction to the package, rates them this way: Five predict that Obama will win a plurality of the two-party vote, although three are on “the cusp of a toss-up.” Five predict that Romney will win the plurality of the two-party vote. Three are in what he calls the toss-up range. …
Several of these scholars will talk more about forecasting elections on Oct. 16  at the National Press Club. …
By Emily Wilkins
Scripps Howard Foundation Wire
October 17, 2012
WASHINGTON — Fluctuating polls aren’t the only way to predict an election. Thirteen different models published in the October issue of Political Science and Politics (PS) give incumbent President Obama the win — but just barely.
The forecasts, which show the election to be much closer than the 2004 or 2008 elections, give Obama an average .06 percent lead ahead of Romney.
James E. Campbell, a political science professor at the University of Buffalo, helped select and edit the models for the October issue of PS. Campbell and three other professors who created forecasts spoke Oct. 16 at the National Press Club. …
This year, there’s less agreement. Of the 13 models, five predict Romney, five predict Obama, and three are toss-ups.
Because each model uses different factors in predicting the election, the results of each model are not the same. In nearly every report, changes in the economy played a role. Some forecasts used direct numbers from the economy, while others examined how the electorate has reacted to changes in the economy. Other factors included popularity of the current president, jobs and current polls.
When each forecast is taken individually, the highest Obama can get is 53.8 percent of the vote, and the lowest he can get is 46.9 percent.
“What we see every day in the newspaper and in the models is this conflict or confusion of all the numbers, and they’re not all going in the same direction,” said Michael S. Lewis-Beck, a professor of political science at the University of Iowa. “I think this is pointing to the tightening of this race and uncertainty of this race.”
When creating the models, professors seek to predict the correct winner rather than picking their favorite candidate, Campbell said. Although he is a Republican, Campbell predicts Obama will win with about 52 percent of the popular vote. He predicted Clinton’s victories in 1992 and 1996.
“That’s one of the nice things about a statistical model,” Campbell said. “If you have it in place before the election, the numbers speak for themselves.”
He added that he wasn’t very happy to predict Clinton – save the fact that he was right.
Thomas M. Holbrook, chair of the department of political science at the University of Wisconsin, correctly predicted George W. Bush and Obama’s wins in 2004 and 2008. Using a model that examines presidential approval ratings and personal finances of the electorate, he predicts a Romney victory.
Holbrook acknowledges that Obama was leading the polls for a while and was even being declared the victor by some groups. But according to the model, it just meant some event – in this case the first debate – would even things out.
“Campaign events serve as a corrective,” he said. “If a candidate is running way ahead of the polls, a campaign event favoring the other candidate can correct that overexuberance to bring public opinion back into line with the expected outcome.”
Reach reporter Emily Wilkins at email@example.com or 202-326-9867. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.
By Barry Schwartz
November 12, 2012
Though President Obama won reelection decisively, he won’t have much time to celebrate. Many of the nation’s problems — stimulating employment, reducing the deficit, controlling health-care costs, and improving the quality of education — are very serious, and some of them must be addressed with great urgency. …
Historically, when the need has arisen to change behavior, political leaders have turned to economists. That’s one reason why presidents have a Council of Economic Advisers. When economists speak, presidents listen. And when economists have the president’s ear, all their whispers are predicated on a set of assumptions about human behavior. … They will for example argue that people are motivated by self-interest and are rational calculators of their interests, and that the most effective way to get people to change the way they behave is by creating the right material incentives.
Now, people are sometimes rational calculators, but often they are not. And self-interest and incentives certainly matter, but they aren’t all that matters. The perspective of economists is importantly incomplete, sometimes even misguided.
That’s why we need psychologists whispering in the president’s other ear — about the economy, but also about education, health care, and more. The United States needs a Council of Psychological Advisers — a new body that would parallel and complement the Council of Economic Advisers — to bring actual experts on human behavior into the most senior levels of conversation about how to change it. …
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