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The Political Personality of 2020

Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden

August 18, 2020

A psychological analysis of former U.S. vice president Joe Biden — Democratic nominee in the 2020 U.S. presidential election — by Anne Marie Griebie, Kiara Westendorf, Yitao Zhang, and Aubrey Immelman, Ph.D., at the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics revealed that Vice President Biden’s primary personality pattern is Outgoing/gregarious, complemented by a secondary Accommodating/cooperative pattern and subsidiary Ambitious/confident features. Typologically, Biden may be characterized as a conciliatory extravert with an interpersonal leadership style.

Presidential Electability Index range: 21-33

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The poster presents the results of an indirect assessment of the personality of former U.S. vice president Joe Biden, Democratic nominee in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, from the conceptual perspective of personologist Theodore Millon.

Psychodiagnostically relevant data about Biden were collected from biographical sources and media reports and synthesized into a personality profile using the Millon Inventory of Diagnostic Criteria (MIDC), which yields 34 normal and maladaptive personality classifications congruent with DSM-III-R, DSM-IV, and DSM-5.

The personality profile yielded by the MIDC was analyzed on the basis of interpretive guidelines provided in the MIDC and Millon Index of Personality Styles manuals. Biden’s primary personality pattern was found to be Outgoing/gregarious, complemented by a secondary Accommodating/cooperative pattern and subsidiary Ambitious/confident features.

The prominence of the Outgoing pattern, in conjunction with a distinctive Accommodating pattern in his overall personality configuration, is indicative of the conciliatory extravert subtype. This personality composite provides the personological substrate for a strong affiliation motive. These individuals are driven to seek approval; they want others to like them and view them as a friend or ally. To achieve that motivational goal, they often compliment, praise, or flatter others, presenting an image of goodwill. When disagreements occur, they attempt to smooth things over, sometimes at the cost of conceding.

Leaders with Biden’s personality profile are likely to exhibit an interpersonal leadership style, characterized by flexibility, compromise, and an emphasis on teamwork. The general tenor of a Biden presidency likely will be conciliatory, which could render a prospective President Biden vulnerable to manipulation by pressure groups and handicap him in negotiations or conflicts with foreign adversaries.


Research paper

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:

Annie Griebie explains the conceptual framework, methodology, and results of her assessment of Vice President Joe Biden’s personality and leadership style. (9:42)


Update: October 8, 2020

Biden’s Mental State: What the Experts Are Saying

John Martin-Joy M.D.

Psychology Today
September 29, 2020


[It] is hard to find a psychiatrist or psychologist who has commented on the Democratic nominee in the media. Is psychological comment merely partisanship in professional disguise?

For years it has been known that psychiatrists tend to vote Democratic. In 1968, for example, President Lyndon Johnson’s pollster noted that doctors were overwhelmingly Republican — “except for psychiatrists.” As of 1964, as Johnson’s men noted, psychiatrists had polled Democratic by a margin of 67% to 33%. …

Outside the glare of the media, one can turn to the groves of academe for careful study of Biden’s personality. Anne Marie Griebie and psychologist Aubrey Immelman of the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University have recently conducted an empirical study of Biden’s public personality. Their Biden profile [link added] is the latest in a long and systematic series of at-a-distance evaluations of presidential candidates [link added] conducted by Immelman’s group since the 1990s.

Griebie and Immelman assembled open-source material on Biden, then conducted empirical ratings of his personality using the Millon Inventory of Diagnostic Criteria (MIDC). The MIDC’s personality typology is related to, although not identical to, the DSM system.

The results? Biden’s personality, the researchers found, is predominantly outgoing/gregarious, with lesser features of accommodating/cooperative and ambitious. The leadership of individuals who have this profile has an interpersonal focus that involves “flexibility, compromise, and an emphasis on teamwork.”

Their point has some echoes in Jules Witcover’s thorough and admiring biography of Biden. There, the candidate is described as strikingly “garrulous” and empathic over many years, often reaching out to others in times of tragedy and loss even as he aimed repeatedly for the presidency.

Griebe and Immelman believe his gregarious and accommodating personality style may make Biden vulnerable to “manipulation by pressure groups” and may make negotiations with world leaders difficult.

In some ways, the group’s evaluation of Biden resembles their past findings about Barack Obama [link added], whom they found also showed accommodating traits. Before Obama’s election, Immelman expressed concern about whether Obama was tough enough to succeed in the presidency.

The group sees Kamala Harris [link added], Biden’s choice for vice president, as dominant/asserting, with elements of ambitious/confident and outgoing/congenial. This kaleidoscope of traits adds up to a style that the group sees as “high dominance charismatic.” It is not clear how Immelman believes a candidate with such a personality will get along with the outgoing and accommodating Biden.

And Donald Trump? [link added] Immelman’s group sees him as “ambitious/exploitative” — that means narcissistic, they explain — and also outgoing/impulsive. This is an unusual combination, one they have not found in the 2020 Democratic nominees.

Can Biden defeat Trump in 2020? Mental health professionals have a poor track record of predicting adverse events in their patients, let alone election results involving candidates they have never met. But Immelman and colleagues have developed an empirical instrument they call the “Personal Electability Index” (PEI).

The PEI, has predicted correctly — “before Super Tuesday,” no less — “the outcome of every presidential election since 1996.”

The PEI uses ratings of personality traits, “as publicly perceived,” to predict each candidate’s appeal to independent voters. Independents allegedly base their decisions on personality more than politics — and are said to favor outgoing, confident, and dominant candidates while disliking those who are introverted and overconscientious. (Such candidates tend to have trouble connecting with people during the campaign.)

In March 2016, while polls heavily favored Hillary Clinton, the PEI calmly predicted she would lose to Donald Trump.

What does all this mean for the 2020 election? Last year Immelman’s group used the PEI to assess the candidates’ personality traits, comparing Trump with all of the Democratic primary candidates, including Biden and Harris. The PEI predicted that Biden’s outgoing personality would lead him to surpass all of the other candidates in the Democratic primary race.

And according to the PEI, Donald Trump will win in November 2020.

Claims of infallibility for the PEI, of course, should be taken with a grain of salt. As described, its value rests on a set of very changeable assumptions. And there have been only six elections since 1996, making its sample size extremely small and its track record a very thin basis for prediction. Still, as predictions go, it at least appears to have some empirical foundation.

Presidential candidates, no matter how accommodating or conciliatory, are unlikely to concede a year before an election because of a research finding by a psychologist. In our system, it is, finally, up to the voters and not to the mental health professionals to decide.

Full report at Psychology Today


Related reports on this site

Projecting the Winner of the 2020 Presidential Election: The Personal Electability Index (July 8, 2019)

Donald Trump

Presidential Electability Index

Range: 65-77 (71 ±6); dysfunctionality adjusted = 45


Joe Biden

Presidential Electability Index

Range: 16-29 (22.5 ±6.5) / Revised Aug. 2020: 21-33 (27 ±6)


The Personality Profile of Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (April 25, 2019)

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Joe Biden’s Second Act? 2020 “Ridin’ with Biden” (May 31, 2017)

One Response to “The Personality Profile of 2020 Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden”
  1. The Immelman Turn » Blog Archive » The Presidential Transition: Preview of Joe Biden’s Leadership Style as President Says:

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

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