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The Personal is Political: did personality ‘Trump’ U.S politics?

Research Question: To what extent can we identify a relationship between who Donald Trump is personally and what he did politically?

A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Political Science

Name: Isabella Catherine Smith Supervisor: Dr. Chiara Libiseller Second Reader: Dr. Conny Roggeband

Student ID: 13716913 Word Count: 23,972

Date: 8/07/22


Table of Contents












The presidency of Donald Trump demonstrated that the personal characteristics of leaders and their politics are not dichotomous but are inherently intertwined. The election of Trump as the 45th President of the United States reinvigorated the debate that ‘who leads matters’ (Hermann, 2001) and granted increased focus upon the personality traits of individual leaders (Drezner, 2020, p.384). Trump’s personality was particularly unique for a president and consequently its scrutiny became a central focus of scholars, psychologists, political commentators, and the public during his campaign and following his election (Mcadams, 2016). Academics such as Ashcroft, 2016; Immelman, 2017; McAdams, 2016 posited that Trump’s irrational character and the erratic behaviour that he flagrantly displayed throughout his election campaign was not only incompatible with the requirements deemed necessary for a competent president but that if elected, Trump would pose a detrimental threat to the presidency and to US interests. Such scholars predicted that as president, his decision-making would be characterised by impulsiveness and inconsistency, being hampered by his quick temper, short attention span and grandiose, narcissistic beliefs. (Ashcroft, 2016, p.219; Drezner, 2020, p.384). As a result, this fuelled mass hysteria and concern in the public sphere surrounding the future of nuclear proliferation and foreign policy if Trump was to become president (Michaels and Williams, 2017, p.54).

Therefore, Trump’s success in the 2016 presidential election not only ‘defied expert opinion’

(Adams, 2017, p.1) but shook world politics. Combined with the fact that he had no military or political experience, Trump’s unique character fuelled academic discussions regarding how he would influence International Relations (IR) and America’s interests. As President, his


policy decisions reflected the uniqueness of his personality, departing from the precedent set previously and consequently undermining the ‘stability of the liberal international order’

(Thiers & Wehner, 2022, p.2). Fulfilling the predictions of scholars, Trump’s policies have been defined by their unpredictable and irrational nature which have altered the course of US foreign and domestic policies on various issues (Schultz, 2019, p.12).

Mr Trump’s presidency has signified a substantial departure from the fidelity of US leadership in areas such as diplomacy and trade as well as drastically altering domestic policies on immigration and health. In the domain of foreign policy, Trump’s withdrawal or threats to remove the US from various international agreements and treaties such as the Paris Agreement, the Iran Nuclear Deal, UNESCO, the UN Human Rights Council, the World Health Organisation (WHO), The Treaty of Open Skies, Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and the Intermediate Range Nuclear Force Treaty (INF) has ‘diminished the sense of U.S. constancy that has been indispensable to the post-war liberal order’ (Cohen, 2019). Many of these withdrawals were seen as illogical as they ostracised the US from trade agreements, thus undermining future economic growth. Additionally, US exit from the agreements diminishes its leadership role as global hegemon, leaving a vacuum for its competitors, such as China and Russia to assume (Zhang, 2020, p221). These decisions combined with Trump’s aggressive policy towards Iran and China, his adversarial behaviour towards previous allies such as Canada and the EU, hostility towards Palestine, and his bizarre friendship with traditional opponents Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un have jeopardised US national security, leading towards a more uncertain global future (Fitzsimmons, 2020, p.53).


In the domestic sphere, Trump’s policies were often characterised by unpredictability and irrationality (Drezner, 2020). With regards to public health, Trump’s inability to respond effectively to the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to America possessing the highest death toll in the world (Statista, 2022). Whilst Trumps decision to repeal ‘Obamacare’ was rational in light of his political allegiances to the Republican party, his judgement to replace it with an ineffective alternative left millions of Americans in a more precarious and vulnerable position (Matthews, 2017), thus undermining his populist pledge to serve ‘the people’ (Mudde and Kaltwasser, 2018). Moreover, his immigration policies have been defined by their radical nature due to his creation of an executive order which enforced a ‘Muslim ban’ (Amnesty, 2020), and his decision to divert 7.2. billion dollars of military funds towards the construction of a Mexican border wall which never materialised was questionable (Burns, 2020). Many of Trump’s policy decisions have been regarded as illogical, and were opposed by advisors, individuals within the Republican party, the international community, and the American public.

Therefore, the justification for his policies has raised various questions and remained somewhat of an enigma.

The majority of scholarly work (Nai and Maier, 2018; Hibbing, and Mondak, 2018; Destradi and Plagemann, 2019; Thiers and Wehner, 2022; Hall, 2021; Lacatus, 2021) attributes the reasoning behind Trump’s policies as a result of his commitment to populism. Through his election campaign, Trump was extremely vocal about his commitment to the populist principle of prioritising the ‘the pure people versus the corrupt elite’ (Mudde and Kaltwasser, 2018, p.1) by putting ‘America First’ and consequently making ‘America great again’ (Addicott 2018, 212). He garnered support by portraying himself as a political outsider and projecting extensive criticism towards Washington Insiders and elites, vowing to ‘drain the swamp’ (BBC, 2016) of corrupt politicians and wealthy lobbyists who he blamed for Americas ills. This commitment


led him to be ‘described as populist par excellence’ (Lacatus, 2021, p.31) and a true representative of the people, embodying the popular will (Destradi and Plagemann 2019, p.724) which he demonstrated through his rhetoric stating: ‘I am going to take care of everybody. I don’t care if it costs me votes or not. Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now’ (Politico, 2017). As a result, scholars such as Thiers and Wehner, 2022; Nai and Maier, 2018; Hall, 2021 have utilised populist theory to rationalise Trump’s policy decisions.

However, this thesis asserts that using populism as the sole explanation for Trump’s policies is problematic. This is because there is substantial inconsistency between Trump’s alleged commitment to populism and the nature of the policies he enacted and who they served. When Trump left office in 2021, despite his frequent pledges to put ‘America first’, he had put only a small portion of American’s first, namely wealthy businessmen and subsequently accentuated social-economic inequalities. Perhaps this is unsurprising taking into consideration that Trump’s cabinet was comprised mainly of millionaires, whose collective net-worth totalled over $3.2 billion. Trump openly declared how his policies benefited billionaires in a boastful tweet, stating that he had made the oil tycoon Koch brothers richer and that they love his tax cuts and deregulation (Embury-Dennis, 2018). Despite intellectuals (Hall, 2021; Hibbing, and Mondak, 2018) explaining Trump’s withdrawal from international agreements as a result of a populist suspicion of outsiders, ‘Trump’s administration has maintained its commitments to geo-political competition with the world’s greatest military powers and to the formal alliances it inherited’ (Lacatus, 2021, p.42) which suggests populism cannot be the only explanation for these decisions. Additionally, his health bill which was intended to replace the Affordable Care Act was estimated to leave ‘23 million more Americans uninsured’ and contained ‘$600 billion in tax cuts that would save the wealthiest 0.1 percent of Americans nearly $200,000 each in a single year’ (Matthews, 2017). It is also interesting to note that after two years of his presidency


‘President Trump no longer presented himself as an outsider in Washington’ (Lacatus, 2021, p.41).

In this light, it seems that Trump utilised the guise of populism as a vehicle by which he could impose his personal ambitions nationally. In order to do so, it appears that Trump exploited the needs of ‘blue-collar workers to get into the White House, only to hand over the keys to the one percent’ (Kingsbury, 2020). Therefore, scholars use of populism to explain Trump’s unpredictability and irrationality is tenuous; as Destradi and Plagemann stress, 'unpredictability is not an automatic consequence of populist government’ (2019, p.726). There exist various issues with establishing a relation of causality when attributing Trump’s behaviour to populism. It is not possible to determine whether populism is the explanation for one’s behaviour or whether an individual’s personal characteristics are compatible with the tenets of populism and thus their behaviour is a result of their personality. As a result, populism as an explanation for Trump’s behaviour is overly focused upon in the literature and alternative explanations are required. It is imperative to stress that this thesis does not seek to disregard the populist arguments proposed by scholars as the case can certainly be made for Trump’s commitment to populism. Rather, my work intends to question this commitment and contribute an alternative and otherwise neglected explanation for Trump’s political behaviour by providing a psychological perspective.


Aims and Objectives

This thesis seeks to advance the study of the nexus of personality and politics by demonstrating the connection between the personality traits of leaders and the political decisions they enact.

Therefore, this analysis will demonstrate how a leaders personality permeates their politics through addressing the research question: ‘To what extent can we identify a relationship between who Donald Trump is personally and what he did politically?’. To do so, this research adopts a psychological lens and will build upon the theoretical framework of Political Psychology in IR. Political Psychology has remained a neglected field within IR due to the perception that cognitions and personality traits are irrational and thus not compatible with rationalist theory. Traditional theoretical approaches have, therefore, overlooked the psychology of leaders and the incremental role it can play in defining politics. Indeed, they have failed to acknowledge that certain individuals possess substantial power within the political system which naturally allows them to exert influence over the policy process. Whilst scholars ‘have hinted to the personalisation of policy as an explanation for Trump’s behaviour’

(Destradi & Plagemann, 2019, p.724) they have failed to conduct studies to validate this and thus my own research aims to compensate for this deficiency in the literature. By analysing the personality of Donald Trump and applying it to his political behaviour, I will demonstrate the value which psychological perspectives can bring to IR if they are incorporated into mainstream theory.

In order to reveal the connection between personality and politics, my study will establish a systematic personality profile of Trump which is independent from his policy decisions. This will be achieved by using Margaret Hermann’s ‘Leadership Trait Analysis’ (LTA) to conduct a content analysis on Trumps tweets to establish how he scores on seven personality traits. The intricacies of this will be expanded upon in the following chapters. This profile will then be


utilised to explain Trump’s foreign and domestic policy decisions from a psychological perspective. Specifically, my analysis will focus on explaining Trumps decision to withdraw from the Iran-Nuclear deal, the Paris Agreement, and his response to COVID-19.

Through identifying a relationship between Trump’s personality and the policies he enacted, this discussion will conclude that Trump’s political decisions make sense in light of his personality. The results of the LTA and the creation of Trump’s psychological profile reveal that he possesses very high scores on traits such as the belief in his ability to control events, the need for power, distrust of others and in-group bias. Conversely, Trump scored considerably low on conceptual complexity and task orientation. Perhaps surprisingly, Trump scored below average on self-confidence. Trump’s high levels of distrust for others, belief in his ability to control events, and need for power resulted in him being self-assured in his decisions, consequently ignoring crucial advice and failing to delegate tasks to those with experience. Additionally, his tendency towards in-group bias resulted in him prioritising the wishes of his support groups such as wealthy conservatives and businessmen who benefited from his decisions. His low levels of conceptual complexity and task orientation debilitated his cognitive ability to understand the complexity of the respective situations and react effectively which concluded in flawed responses. Finally, Trump’s lack of self-confidence contributes towards explaining why Trump scores highly on other traits as this offers him a means by which he is able to address his feelings of worthlessness.

However, there exist certain caveats to this discussion which must be addressed. It is critical to acknowledge that the American political system and its politics are a result of a complex interrelation of various factors and thus a psychological perspective of the president is insufficient to explain US politics. This study does not intend to claim that Trump’s personality


determined American politics, rather, it seeks to shed light on how it influenced the policies he enacted. Therefore, the findings of this study should be used as a complimentary perspective to enrich other theoretical explanations that seek to understand the intricacies of US politics.

Additionally, focusing on a single case of Trump undermines this study’s generalisability.

However, it provides a significant contribution to the literature as it is the first to establish a systematic personality profile of Trump using LTA which consequently discusses from a theoretical standpoint whether this profile can be associated with the way a leader behaves in both domestic and international crises. Furthermore, with the rise of leaders such as Jair Bolsonaro who display similar personality traits and are labelled as populists, this study invites other scholars to utilise its findings as a means of comparison.

Overview of the Structure

The remainder of this thesis proceeds in the following manner: firstly, the literature review will provide an analysis of previous scholarly work and how it is relevant to my study. Drawing on literature from political psychology and leadership studies, this review will highlight the gaps in the literature and how my own work contributes to this. More specifically, it will scrutinise the work which provide explanations for Trump’s behaviour. Subsequently, the theoretical framework will introduce the central tenets of Hermann’s LTA and will provide detailed information on the seven personality traits which will be utilised to examine Trump’s behaviour. Following this, the methodology chapter will outline the process of collecting data and the procedure of conducting the LTA. The next chapter will present the results of Trump’s LTA and a short summary will be provided explaining the implications of these findings and establishing a psychological profile of Donald Trump which will be used for analysis. The following section will apply Trump’s psychological profile to explain his decision to withdraw from international agreements and his response to COVID-19. Finally, my conclusion will


discuss the significance of my research and how my findings relate to my research question and the literature. This thesis will conclude that there exists a clear relationship between who Trump is psychologically and the political decisions he enacted whilst president.


Literature Review


The phenomenon that leaders possess the ability to influence politics is not novel. Indeed, the work of Thucydides and Machiavelli highlights how crucial the individual leader and their leadership styles are in political affairs (Sheikh and Muhammad, 2018). Thucydides in his depiction of the Peloponnesian war demonstrated how the personality differences between politicians such as Alcibiades and Pericles influenced the course that the war eventually took (Ibid, 2018). In ‘The Prince’, Machiavelli asserts that successful leadership is dependent upon certain traits and behaviour such as the ability to be unscrupulous, manipulative, and ruthless (Hermann, 1980, p.8; Glad, 2002 p.33). Sigmund Freud explored the life and work of Leonardo da Vinci (McAdams, 2016) and following this, psychologists became increasingly preoccupied with studying the psychological profiles of prominent individuals. Despite this, the ways in which psychology affects politics and more specifically, the psychological make-up of world leaders, has been a frequently neglected aspect in the literature of IR. Indeed, this neglect appears paradoxical since politics and IR is largely dependent upon the actions of individuals.

Encouraged by the work of psychologists, political scientists such as Lasswell, 1960, Leites, 1961 and Adorno et al, 1950 began to produce influential work, demonstrating the interdisciplinary nature of both politics and psychology by investigating ‘the mental profiles of all the sorts of people that politics involves’ (Pettman, 2011, p.1). Lasswell questioned what stood ‘behind (the) agitators, (the) administrators, (the) theorists, and (the) other types who play on the public stage?’ (Lasswell, 1960, p.8). Thus, it was imperative to investigate the


internal cognitions of individual leaders to comprehend their political operations (Lasswell, 1960). In doing so, Lasswell intended to explain the ‘whole social and political order’

(Lasswell, 1960,pp.8-9).

However, the dominance of theories such as Realism within IR literature and the desire for scientific reasoning resulted in the application of a psychological lens being largely absent from IR Theory. Those scholars (Turner and Kaarbo, 2021; Pettman, 2011; Gallagher and Allen;

Hudson; 2013) who have sought to identify comparisons between psychology and politics explain that its absence is due to the perception that emotions and personality traits are irrational phenomena which are incompatible with the aspiration for rationalist theory. Within IR there exists a desire to explain political decisions in accordance with rationalism (Morgenthau, 1978; Waltz, 2003). Such approaches are considered undesirable due to the lack of scientific rigour, their interdisciplinary nature and as Song and Simonton, state for being

‘inherently subjective’ (2007, p.309), undermining the ability to establish general patterns of behaviour. This has been further compounded by ‘the absence of a viable model of personality in the field of psychology’ (Mondak and Halper, 2008). Following the creation of institutions such as the UN, IR Theory became dominated by institutionalist perspectives (Turner and Kaarbo, 2021). The desire to place institutions at the heart of IR was a pattern which persisted into the following decades, and consequently as Costa Lobo states, ‘moved the discipline away from sociological interpretations of politics and rarely emphasized the role of leaders within institutions’ (2018, p.164). Therefore, scholars who have attempted to incorporate psychological perceptions within broader IR theory have often had their theoretical contributions marginalised.


In the literature, Hudson, substantiates the problems of ignoring the psychology of political leaders, describing how actor-specific studies are essential as they offer meaning to the study of IR (2005, p.1-30). Similarly, Cottam, states that when individuals exert considerable power over the policy process ‘what these people are like such as their strengths, weaknesses, personality and experience will have an impact on policy’ (2010, p.13).

This chapter will discuss how the increased focus on the personality of leaders has provided significant contributions to the literature. It will recognise that the majority of this is concerned with analysing the behaviour of dictators due to the abnormal behaviour that they display which consequently neglects an investigation of mainstream leadership. However, this review will recognise that the personalisation of politics as a result of the prevalence of social media combined with the development of various models of personality has increased the accessibility of conducting psychological assessments. Nevertheless, it will highlight how there still exists a deficient focus on utilising psychology as an explanation for political behaviour within IR which the case of Donald Trump has demonstrated.

The Psychology of Dictators

The rise to power of dictators during the 20th century and the horrifying consequences of their behaviour provoked an increased focus upon the perception that ‘who leads matters’ (Gallagher and Allen, 2014). Following the actions of individuals such as Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot many students of IR began to turn their attention ‘to the ways in which different elites approached problems of international conflict and cooperation’ (George, 1969, 192). Indeed, most studies which focus upon the psychology of leaders have traditionally


examined the personalities of tyrants (Burkle, 2018, Coolidge et al 2007; George, 1969; Tucker 1990; Waites, 1977; Rosenbaum, 1998; Lukacs, 1997; Post 1991, 1993, 2005; Robins and Post, 1997; Kernberg, 1992).

The actions of Hitler during the Second World War and the Holocaust motivated Adorno et al to produce their influential work on the ‘Authoritarian Personality’ (1950). Whilst the

‘Authoritarian Personality’ has received criticism since its publication regarding methodological flaws (Gaensslen et al, 1973; Ray, 1980; Brown, 2004), the research was an imperative contribution to the field. Adorno et al created a criterion which identified nine personality traits that they believed to be associated with a tendency towards authoritarian behaviour, suggesting that authoritarianism was a result of psychological factors as opposed to structural features (Gallagher & Blackstone, 2015). The significance of this work cannot be understated as it was one of the first published works which recognised that certain personality traits amongst leaders could be associated with specific behaviour. This framework invited greater scrutiny of the personalities of leaders and an otherwise unseen attention granted to the psychology of leaders with the hope of minimising the likelihood that such atrocities would occur again. Various scholars (Tucker 1990; Waites, 1977; Rosenbaum, 1998; Lukacs, 1997;

Post 1991, 1993, 2005; Robins and Post, 1997) have created profiles of dictators such as Stalin, Hitler and Saddam Hussein to try and comprehend or explain their actions through identifying behavioural patterns (Glad, 2002). Many of these studies conclude that tyrants suffer from various forms of mental illness such as borderline personality disorder, malignant narcissism and paranoia (Post 1991, 1993, 2005; Burkle, 2018; Coolidge et al, 2007; Waites, 1977) and that their behaviour is a consequence of such illnesses.


The conclusions drawn from these studies have been controversial within the literature. Other academics such as Lukacs and Rosenbaum assert that by diagnosing tyrants like Hitler and Stalin with mental disorders or to conclude that they were simply ‘mad’ eradicates responsibility or undermines the severity of their actions (Glad, 2002). Whilst the concerns they raise are valid, acknowledging or recognising that tyrants such as Hitler and Stalin suffered from psychological disorders allows us to infer or understand how their environments interacted with their personalities and influenced their behaviour. This is imperative as a greater understanding of one’s behaviour provides us with greater predictive capabilities and thus preventative abilities to future humanitarian violations. Coolidge et al, 2007 substantiate this perspective in their comparative study of Hitler and Hussein stating that ‘a clearer understanding of one’s adversaries is a wise strategy in international conflict resolution’ (2007, p.290). Burkle refers to the persisting ignominy of democratic countries and international humanitarian organisations who were ‘generally unaware of the overwhelming power that character flaws and self-serving motives of autocratic leaders had on critical outcomes of diplomacy and health security of the population’ (2018, p.3), necessitating the need for greater attention to psychological perspectives in IR.

In Waites most influential work ‘The Psychopathic God: Adolf Hitler’, he demonstrates how Hitler possessed pathologic and narcissistic features which enabled him to manipulate others in his environment without experiencing guilt (1977, pp. xi-xviii). Likewise, Post and Robins in their presentation of Saddam Hussein concluded that he was a malignant narcissist who experienced severe levels of paranoia which compounded his ability to rule, stating that ‘when a paranoid leader becomes chief of state, his paranoia infects the nation’ (Robins & Post, 1997, p. 244). Post also demonstrates how conflicts in the Middle East have been perpetuated by leaders such as Gaddafi and Hussein’s inability to accept defeat as a result of their personality


traits (Post, 1991; Post, 2003; Post, 2011). These contributions are valuable to the field as they demonstrate how the personality and political behaviour of one key political actor can be of determinative significance (Post, 1991, p.279). Despite Lukacs and Rosenbaum’s critique, recognition of this mental abnormality is crucial to identify similar patterns of behaviour amongst specific leaders in the future. Glad. 2002 refers to this in her work when she posits that by diagnosing figures like Hitler and Stalin with personality disorders, this does not rule out moral evaluations as suggested by Lukacs and Rosenbaum.

Within the literature there exists a consensus amongst scholars that the personality disorders described are manifest amongst most dictators (Kernberg, 1992, p.81; Post, 1993, pp.102-104;

Robins & Post, 1997, p.4). This work has revealed that many autocrats during the 20th century

‘share severe character disorders’ (Burkle, 2018, p.2) which are consistent across borders and cultures. Burkle shows how these autocratic leaders share similarities in the personality traits they possess as they have a ‘limited capacity for empathy, love, guilt, or anxiety that become developmentally permanent and guide everyday decision making’ (Burkle, 2018, p.2). This general pattern of behaviour amongst tyrants is further demonstrated through comparative studies such as Coolidge and Segal, 2007 draw various comparisons between the psychopathology of Hussein and Hitler.

Yet, the literature which focuses upon mental disorders amongst dictators is ethically problematic. The precedent set by the ‘Goldwater Rule’ has been invoked by numerous scholars (Applebaum, 2017; Kroll, 2016) who question the moral legitimacy of this literature.

The rule is an ethic stipulated by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) which states that it is unethical to diagnose a leader or public figure of whom they have never had direct interaction with a mental illness (Nai et al, 2019). Indeed, Waite was aware of this in his study


of Hitler, as he refrained from talking in terms of psychopathology due to his inability to analyse Hitler directly (Pettman, 2021, p.60). More recently however, academics such as Nai et al. (2019); Ashcroft (2016); Davidson et al. (2006) argue that the rule is outdated and thus have attempted to expose how modern leaders suffer from mental illness. For example, Davidson et al in their review conclude that just under half of U.S presidents suffered from a major mental disorder which consequently affected their ability to fulfil their position (2006, p.51).

The controversy surrounding the Goldwater Rule became increasingly relevant following the election of Trump as scholars, political commentators, and psychologists have speculated that he is mentally ill. He has frequently been described as a psychopath, sociopath, and narcissist, or viewed as having an anti-social personality disorder, by his detractors (Berger, 2016;

Olbermann, 2016; Williams, 2016). This dialogue created a dilemma within the literature from scholars such as Meyer (2016) or Basken (2016) who debated whether mental-health experts should defy the Goldwater rule and attempt to prevent Trump’s election due to the belief that he could pose a serious threat to the nation if election.

In light of the controversy and questionable ethical stance surrounding the Goldwater rule which has been raised in the literature, my own research will focus on an assessment of personality traits as opposed to personality disorders. Rather than seeking to conclude that Trump suffers from a specific disorder, this thesis will explain his behaviour through his personality traits. This study will contribute to the literature which focuses more specifically on cognitions and personality traits thus raising fewer ethical concerns than studies which seek to diagnose an individual with a mental disorder.


Psychology and ‘Mainstream’ Leadership

Whilst the psychopathology of autocrats has dominated the political psychology literature, less attention has been granted to ‘normal’ leaders who do not display as unique personality traits or whose behaviour has not led to large-scale loss of life. As Cottam states, the most evident intersection between psychology and International Relations is where a leader ‘becomes sufficiently mentally ill to cause a significant loss of human life’ (2015, p.48). Less documented are examples where leaders’ performance is inhibited by their mental capacity, undermining their ability to make logical decisions but which do not result in catastrophic outcomes. To compensate for this deficiency, researchers have aimed to expand the investigations into the personality traits of democratic leaders and how this has influenced their policy.

In contrast to the literature which intends to diagnose leaders with mental disorders, the existing literature on personality traits aims to illuminate how these can influence political decisions such as ‘whether to go to war, how to respond to financial crises, how to approach international bargaining, and how much violence to use during military conflicts, among other topics’

(Fitzsimmons, 2022, p.41). There does exist a consensus that characteristics of leaders become more impactful on policy during crises and wars (Malla, 2021; Greenstein 1967; Dyson 2006;

Winter 2003) which explains why a great deal of this work is focused on foreign policy analysis. The studies which focus on traits and cognitions tend to be more tentative in their conclusions than those which seek to diagnose leaders with mental disorders. This need not be seen in a negative way, rather, less severe diagnoses and more general insights of leadership behaviour allows for greater applicability.


The preponderance of these studies focuses upon the personalities of US Presidents (Etheredge, 1978; Rubenezer and Faschingbauer, 2004; Greenstein 1967; Winter 2003; Gallagher &

Blackstone, 2015) or UK Prime Ministers (Brummer 2016; Dyson, 2006; Freedman and Michaels, 2013). This focus is due to the power and influence that these leaders are perceived to possess within the international system and that their behaviour is more exposed to the public domain and thus easier to analyse (Poguntke and Webb 2005; Costa Lobo, 2018). As part of the volume edited by Freedman and Michaels, 2013, Freedman and Lawrence in their two chapters ‘introduction: strategies, stories and scripts’ and ‘leadership scripts and policymaking’

demonstrate how characteristics, experiences and cognitive shortcuts have influenced political decisions in both the UK and the US. Part of their work focuses on George W. Bush’s actions towards Iraq and challenges both those neo-realist explanations which explain US intervention as a result of national security and liberal -internationalist explanations (Deudney and Ikenberry, 2017). Instead, Freedman and Lawrence, 2013 offer a psychological explanation, suggesting that Bush Jnr actions towards Iraq were influenced and navigated by cognitive shortcuts. They suggest that because Hussein had attempted to assassinate Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush, this in turn provoked Bush Jnr to act in a more aggressive manner (2012, p. 133). Additionally, Freedman and Lawrence demonstrate how the ‘Munich analogy’ has influenced leaders’ foreign policy as it has operated as a cognitive shortcut during decision making. They utilise the example of the Suez Crisis where UK Prime Minister, Anthony Eden described Nasser as the next Hitler (2013, p.133) which influenced UK policy towards Egypt.

Despite evidence of the existence of these cognitive shortcuts, the inability to empirically prove their influence has limited their validity within IR theory.


From the British perspective of the Iraq War, Dyson similarly challenges those realist and liberal assumptions and argues that ‘Blair’s distinctive individual characteristics are a crucial factor in explaining the Iraq choices’ (2006, p.290). His work suggests that history would have taken a disparate course had Blair not been Prime Minister and that his decisions were dependent upon his personal characteristics. Similarly, Brummer investigates policy fiascos in UK politics and how these can be associated with the personalities of the incumbent leader. He challenges the predominant ‘structural explanations of policy fiascos in the public policy literature’ (2016, p.702), offering an alternative explanation positing that idiosyncrasies of individual leaders influence policy fiascos. The role personality traits can play in the choices individual leaders make is further emphasised by the work of Gallagher and Allen, 2014;

Gallagher and Blackstone, 2015; Gallagher, 2010. Gallagher & Allen, (2014) demonstrate a link between personality and risk-taking. The findings of their research shed a different perspective on this relationship, showing that risk-takers will be ‘more likely to use force to carry out their foreign policy objectives and will be less consistent in their decisions about the use of force, compared to more risk-averse leaders’ (2014, p.2). This suggests that an international stage occupied by risk-takers is more likely to conclude in escalating global conflict.

These contributions to the literature are valuable as they are some of the few that demonstrate a link between personality traits, experiences of leaders and policy decisions, emphasising the validity of political psychology. They have shaped my work as they demonstrate the validity of challenging traditional liberal and realist assumptions through providing a psychological perspective. My own research will substantiate these contributions by providing evidence of how Donald Trump’s personality was intrinsically linked with his political decisions.


Personalisation of Politics

In recent decades there has been an increasing preoccupation with leader personalities which has contributed to compensating for the longstanding deficits within the literature. An explanation for the emergence of the personalisation of politics is due to the era of social media domination. This is discussed by Schultz, 2019 and D’Arma, (2015) who assert that media coverage has contributed to politics becoming increasingly personalised and thus amplified the importance of the personality of leaders. The work of D’Arma’ and Langer, 2007 demonstrates how the media has shifted the public’s focus upon leaders’ personalities and non-political characteristics as opposed to their competency as politicians. The growing importance of leader’s personalities during elections and within the democratic political system has led to what Poguntke and Webb, 2005 refer to as the ‘presidentialisation of politics’.

Additionally, Nai et al point to the declining level of party identification in democracies as the essential factor which has provoked an increased focus and assessment upon the personality of democratic leaders. In their work they posit how, nowadays, voters are much more likely to vote according to the specific individual running for election as opposed to party identification,

‘issue orientations and even partisanship’ (2019, p. 611).

Models of Personality


The contributions to the literature discussed have been aided by the ability to operationalise leaders’ behaviour through the development of models of personality, allowing for experimental insights to be provided (Hermann, 2002; George, Naumann and Soto, 2008). As discussed, political psychology has been a subfield of IR which has traditionally been dismissed due to its inability to produce empirical evidence to support its hypotheses. As Karboo and Turner state, many scholars of IR have recognised the importance of personality but have been constrained as ‘they lack the research toolkits to effectively analyse it’ (2021, p.455). Several scholars have intended to challenge this methodological issue through producing studies to validate their claims. This has been achieved through the creation of personality models which produce and identify relationships between traits, granting increasing legitimacy to political psychology as it is becoming centralised around science (Rubenzer and Faschingbauer, 2004, p. xii).

Following her influential contributions to political psychology and aware of the deficit of models within the field, (Hermann, 2003; Hermann and Kogan 1977; Hermann and Hermann 1989; Stewart, Hermann, and Hermann 1989; Kaarbo and Hermann 1998), Hermann pioneered one of the most respected psychological theories to assess leadership style, the ‘Leadership Trait Analysis’ framework. This framework uses seven personality traits to construct psychological profiles and allows us to infer how one may act according to their scores on these traits. These traits allow us to understand how leaders ‘respond to the constraints in their environment, how they process information, and what motivates them to action’ (Hermann, 1999, p.10). Levine and Young produced the software ‘Profiler Plus’ which makes using LTA accessible and has spurred increased research into political psychology. Rabini et al, 2020;

Dyson, 2016; Brummer, 2016; Rohrer, 2014; Kutlu et al, 2021 are a handful of scholars whose


work uses the software to produce LTA of various leaders. As Sheikh & Mohammad stress, LTA has ‘emerged as a solid and reliable research programme’ (2018, p. 47) which justifies why my own research will utilise this theory.

The ‘Big Five’ has become a dominant paradigm and encouraged investigations into how personal characteristics influence the behaviour of leaders (Naumann, and Soto 2008; Gerber et al, 2010; Naier and Toros, 2019). The ‘big five’ is a taxonomy which identifies five personality traits believe to influence behaviour: Extroversion, Neuroticism, Conscientiousness, Agreeableness and Openness (John, Naumann, and Soto 2008; McAdams, 2016) which has been found to be consistent across cultures. Scholars such as Gerber et al, 2011; Mondak and Halperin, 2008; Zimbardo et al, 1999; Crant et al, 2000; Winter, 2005; Nai and Maier, 2019; Gallagher and Allen, 2014 have used the ‘big five’ framework and applied it to IR.

Furthermore, Alexander George’s ‘Operational Code’ has become another well respected mechanism within the literature. Akin to Hermann’s LTA, the ‘Operational Code’ relies on a form of content analysis, transforming ‘the words of authoritative actors into information about their perceptions of the balance of power and intentions in political relationships’ (Dyson and Parent, 2018, p. 86). This analysis provides insight into the beliefs of the individual and has been utilised by scholars in their assessments of leaders (Schafer and Walker, 2021; Willigen and Bakker; Söker, 2020; Yang et al, 2018; Dyson and Parent, 2018; Malici and Malici, 2005;

Feng, 2005).

Prior to the onset of these models constructing a psychological profile of leaders to identify their personality traits was dependent upon individual biographies. Whilst studies which utilise


childhood experiences and biographies to construct a psychological profile of individuals can be valuable, they do not produce taxonomies desired by IR scholars. Earlier studies of politicians’ personality and politics such as Freud and Bullitt, 1967 psychological analysis of Woodrow Wilson is an example of this. These studies have been subject to criticism by academics such as Rubenzer & Faschingbauer, 2004 and Baas, 2005 who view such work as being subjective and unscientific. However, the development of the models discussed has meant that ‘strong support now exists for the argument that leaders have particular and identifiable traits that predispose them to behave in certain ways’ (Kille and Scully, 2003, p.175).

The Personality of Donald Trump & Policy-Making

The election of Trump reinvigorated discussions surrounding the intersection of political psychology and IR within the literature. It was clear from its inception that the election would be characterised by the personalities of candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton due to the extensive scrutiny they received respectively. Trump’s characteristics were unique for a presidential candidate and thus became a primary focus during the election campaign (Mcadams, 2016). Other scholars and psychiatrists disregarded their commitment to the

‘Goldwater Rule’ and asserted that rather than ‘unique’, Donald Trump was mentally unstable and thus not only unsuitable but a serious threat to the presidency and US interests (Nai, et al).

Whilst the influence of Trump’s personality on his political behaviour has been widely acknowledged, research specifically focused upon this relationship remains surprisingly sparse. Schultz stresses the relevance of the personal style of Mr Trump upon his


administration, stating that ‘policy under Trump is personalized and not a product of institutional or organisational deliberation’ (2019, p.30). However, the literature in accordance with mainstream IR theory is primarily concerned with explaining Trump’s presidential decisions as a result of his commitment to populism.

Those studies which have focused on investigating the relationship between Trump’s personality traits and presidential behaviour have largely been predictive in nature (Nai, Coma and Maier; Bateman, 2016; Ashcroft, 2016; Immelman and Griebie, 2017; Mcadams, 2016).

There exists consensus surrounding the fact that if elected, Trumps personality would influence his political choices. Most likely inspired by the topical debate, these studies conducted assessments of Trump’s personality prior to or just following his election. Through obtaining biographical information, scholars created psychological profiles of Trump in order to predict his behaviour as president. For example, Ashcroft, 2017 identifies how Donald Trump’s past has been dominated by lawsuits against his unsuccessful business ventures, for which he does not accept responsibility for. As a result, Ashcroft predicts that Trump would lie and abuse his power, ignore recommendations, make promises he would not keep which is ‘exemplified by the promises he made to investors only for these businesses to fail’ (2017, p.217) and act impulsively. Ashcroft concludes by offering the sinister statement that ‘Donald Trump’s behaviour could be detrimental not just to the US but also to world stability’ (2017, p.217).

Additionally, Immelman & Griebie employ leadership style models to create a psychological profile and as a result, predict Trump’s leadership style would be constrained by his ‘major personality-based limitations’ such as:

‘The propensity for a superficial grasp of complex issues, a predisposition to be easily bored by routine…an inclination to act impulsively without fully appreciating the implications of his


decisions…a predilection to favour personal connections and loyalty over competence in his staffing decisions and appointments’ (Immelman & Griebie, 2020, p.27)

In their study, Nai et al offer support for this claim, assessing Trump’s personality according to the ‘Big Five Model’. Their results show that Trump possesses an ‘off-the-charts personality and campaigning style’ and when compared to other ‘abrasive, narcissistic, and confrontational political figures, he stands out as an outlier among the outliers’ (2019, p, 609). However, academics such as Bentley and David 2021 & Turner and Kaarbo, 2021 shed a different perspective upon the prediction that Trump’s behaviour would be irrational and impulsive.

Instead, these scholars argue that his policies would be predictable to some extent as they were

‘grounded in his personality’ (Turner and Kaarbo, 2021, p.453) and once an understanding of his psychology was obtained this would make his behaviour appear rational.

How this behaviour would materialise in influencing policy decisions in the literature became centralised upon the prospect of ‘Donald Trump being in charge of America’s nuclear arsenal’

(Michaels and Williams, 2017, p54). The 2016 election ‘brought nuclear weapons to the forefront of the American political debate in a way not seen since the Cold War era’ (Ibid, p54). In light of the findings in the literature and comments made by Trump, it was asserted that his personality made him a dangerous individual to possess nuclear power (Bateman, 2016). This spurred various contributions to the literature which predicted that if Trump occupied the presidency, nuclear war would be imminent with one work stating: ‘I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization’ (Mayer, 2016). This is echoed by other scholars such as Basken, who discusses that someone with the personality traits of Donald Trump is a dangerous person


to be president ‘because he can push the button down’ (2016, p.1). Similarly, following Trump’s election, Caldicott stated that ‘we are closer to nuclear war now, at the start of the twenty-first century, than we’ve ever been before, even during the height of the cold war’

(2017, p. x).

Whilst personality traits do give indications of future leadership style as McAdams acknowledges using the example of Bush and Iraq ‘it is very difficult to predict the actions a president will take’ (2016). Predictive studies can be more attractive for scholars as they do not have to seriously consider correlations for hypothetical situations which explains their appeal.

However, the literature on Trumps personality and nuclear weapons demonstrates the issues with this work. Despite these predictions, with hindsight we are aware that Trumps presidency did not conclude in nuclear apocalypse (Cohen 2019), nor did he abuse his nuclear capabilities as anticipated. Also, due to the predictive nature of these studies no systematic evidence is provided to support their claims. For example, Nai et al, after creating a psychological profile of Trump predict that ‘his profile will undoubtedly drive impulsive decisions’ (2019, p.635) but due to its predictive nature, are unable to support this with tangible examples of behaviour.

This reveals problems with these studies as their predictions have been inaccurate.

Consequently, there exists a gap within the literature due to the failure of these scholars to analyse the policies that Trump did enact from a psychological perspective. Indeed, there are multiple narratives regarding the relationship between Trump’s personality and his behaviour, but these are supported by very little or nil systematic evidence. Therefore, I assert that it is more beneficial to conduct retrospective studies based on actual events. Additionally, that predictive studies should focus on predicting how a leader’s personality will influence their behaviour rather than speculating about concrete policies they will impose. There is a


difference between predicting that Trump’s behaviour predisposes him to act irrationally and thus poses potential concerns regarding control over nuclear weapons and predicting that he is highly likely to provoke a nuclear war as the title of Caldicott’s work ‘sleepwalking to armageddon’ suggests. I aim to address this caveat through my own research which will link who Trump is as a person to what he did. In order to do so, I will analyse the decisions which Trump enacted and show how these can be explained from a psychological perspective.

Scholars such as Drezner, 2020; Fitzsimmons, 2022; Malla, 2021; Shultz, 2019 have made attempts to explain Trump’s political decisions utilising a psychological lens. For instance, Fitzsimmons utilises Hermann’s LTA, distinguishing it from the existing literature in order to explain Trump’s decision-making (2022, p.41). They highlight how psychological factors influenced Trump’s willingness to violate constraints which subsequently prompted him to withdraw from international agreements. Whilst the findings of this study are valuable, the focus upon only one aspect of LTA means that they are restricted. Additionally, Drezner recognises that many of Trump’s high-profile decisions such as ‘withdrawing forces from Syria, launching a trade war with China, threatening to close the border with Mexico— were made impulsively’ and as a result of his prominent psychological traits (2020, p.386, 390).

However, Drezner’s work does not utilise any personality models to substantiate his claims which weakens his assertions. Malla, 2021 provides important contributions to the literature as he uses Theordore Millon’s personality model to attempt to explain Trump’s deteriorating relationship with Iran and Iranian foreign policy strategy. This study suggests that events which contributed to this, such as the decision to assassinate General Qasem Soleimani was a consequence of Trump’s irate personality. Malla’s work has been valuable for my own, demonstrating that models of personality can be used to explain Trump’s political decisions.

However, Malla’s focus on only one aspect of Trump’s policy restrains its applicability due to


the inability to establish a general pattern over his decision making. Furthermore, Millon’s model of personality is less established in comparison to other personality frameworks discussed and does not address leadership traits.

My own research aims to utilise the findings of these studies and build upon them through conducting a LTA of various aspects of Trumps policy in order to provide a more cohesive understanding of his behaviour. Additionally, all of the research discussed is concerned with foreign policy and subsequently neglects domestic policies. This thesis aims to shed light on both political spheres which will contribute to an understanding of whether personality drives behaviour or the contextual circumstance.

Donald Trump & Populism

The majority of literature which seeks to explain Trump’s political decisions, specifically foreign policy, centralises around his commitment to populism (Nai et al, Hall, 2021; Destradi and Plageman, 2021; Lacatus, 2021; Wojczewski, 2020). For example, Destradi and Plagemann explain Trump’s withdrawal from international agreements such as the Paris Accord as a result of his commitment to populism. They argue that this is part of a broader populist effort to undermine global governance efforts and prove unwilling to contribute to the provision of global public goods’ (2019, p.720). A similar line of argument is employed by Wojczewski, 2020 who contends that Trump’s ‘othering’ and distrust towards countries such as China derives from populism. This can be used to explain Trump’s policy of ‘scapegoating and blaming of Beijing for trade deficits and the impacts of COVID-19’ (Turner and Kaarbo, 2021, p. 456). Whilst these claims possess validity, America’s exit from international


agreements and ‘othering’ at the hands of Trump can also be explained according to his personality traits. My research will contribute this novel and previously neglected perspective to the literature.

In their work, Thiers and Wehner attempted to bridge the gap in the literature as they advance the study of the connection between politics and populism through revealing the relationship between personality traits of populist leaders and their policies. They construct personality profiles of various ‘populist’ leaders including Donald Trump to demonstrate that their populist policies are provoked initially by psychological characteristics. This study is important as it is one of the only works in the literature which seeks to complement the study of populist leaders by offering an assessment of their psychology (Thiers and Wehner, 2022, p.2), This was called upon by Destradi and Plagemann (2019) in their research who stressed that more analysis must be conducted to understand the personality of populists. Hall refers to the intersection between populism and personality in their work stating that populism is the ‘analytical tool by which Trump’s personality is related to his policies’ (2021, p.51). Yet, despite the literature which portrays Trump and populism as synonymous, my own research intends to challenge the legitimacy of the claims made by scholars such as Thiers and Wehner who classify Trump as a populist.

Whilst limited, there is evidence in the literature which can be used to support my claims.

Fitzsimmons in their work discuss how many of the policies Trump enacted such as retreating from international agreements were opposed by senior figures within his administration and Republicans (2022, p.50). These figures were aligned with Trump’s ideology which suggests that his decisions were not reflective of a commitment to republicanism nor populism and thus could be seen as a reflection of his personality. Fitzsimmons also refers to this stating that


‘Trump’s decision to contravene the preferences of so many other interested actors make sense in light of his personality’ (2022, p.50) thus emphasising the necessity of investigating Trump’s psychology in order to understand his behaviour.

Additionally, Lacatus finds in their analysis that there exist several areas of inconsistency in President Trump’s populist foreign policy (2021, p.34). The analysis highlights how Trump’s public communication is in accordance with populism, advocating ‘non-intervention in military conflict and the withdrawal of troops’ (2021, p.34), however the actions of Trump’s administration in the area of military intervention contrast this (2021, p.39) which questions his affiliation to the ideology. Moreover, there exists an agreement in realist literature that Trump’s policy decisions of isolationism and ‘America first’ are a result of a ‘rational desire to support American’s national interests’ (Fitzsimmons, 2022, p.55) which is in accordance with populist ideology. Yet, Fitzsimmons emphasises that the majority of scholars and advisors in the US ‘have expressed opinions about his foreign policy decisions conclude that they will probably undermine rather than advance U.S. interests’ (2022, p.55), thus undermining Trump’s pledge to populism. Furthermore, in their study to demonstrate Trump’s position as a populist, Nai et al find that Trump scores positions him as an outsider even among populists thus ‘suggesting a truly unique and off-the-charts public persona’ (2019, p.623). These conclusions create a paradox in light of Trump’s failure to enforce populist policies domestically and thus requires further investigation.



This review has highlighted that the increased focus on leaders in recent decades has produced valuable contributions and expanded the field of political psychology. The work of the scholars discussed has been imperative for propelling the view that ‘who leads matters’ (Hermann, 2001) and has demonstrated that the personality of leaders influences the political decisions they enact. This focus has been assisted by the increased attention granted to leaders by the media, the personalisation of politics and most importantly, the development of personality models in psychology which lend support for research.

Despite the creation of political psychology as an interdisciplinary field and the valuable contributions discussed, psychological perspectives remain a neglected area within IR. Whilst the election of Donald Trump revived the debate that indeed, the personal is political, the majority of the literature focused upon his politics remains devoted to contributing towards traditional IR theory, adopting realist, liberalist and populist perspectives to explain his policy choices. This thesis intends to complement this literature through addressing the gap left by the absence of psychological review.


Theoretical Framework: Leadership Trait Analysis


This research will employ a theoretical framework of political psychology, specifically utilising Margaret G. Hermann’s ‘Leadership Trait Analysis’ (LTA). As discussed, I am using LTA as the basis for my research as it is widely considered as the most effective way to interpret politicians’ personality traits (Hinton, 2020, p.3) and one of the most established and respected theoretical frameworks in political psychology. The theory is premised upon the postulation that political leaders ‘play a decisive role in policy outcomes and that a leader’s personality traits influence the decisions they make’ (Fitzsimmons, 2020, p.42). This supposition derives from Hermann’s assumption that the increasing complexity of the world and the onset of various crises necessitate responses from individual leaders and thus results in the role that leaders play in policy making and their leadership style becoming more pronounced (Hermann, 2002. P4).

The LTA seeks to develop a profile of leaders’ personality traits to explain their behaviour.

This framework involves a content analysis method which is conducted at-a-distance due to the inability of many scholars and students of IR to directly study the behaviour of political leaders. The content analysis technique identifies various words and phrases which are believed to be associated with certain behaviour in order to build a personality profile. Thus, the LTA operates according to the belief ‘that the way political leaders speak will provide information about their personality traits’ (Thiers and Wehner, 2020, p.6) and that a psychological understanding of an individual can be deduced from their oral expressions (Schafer and Walker 2006). This belief derives substantial support as it operates in accordance with the guidance of


the 5th version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), published by the American Psychiatric Association which classifies mental disorders. The DSM-IV states that you can provide psychological diagnostic of an individual without interacting with them directly but simply observing their behaviour and speech (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

Content Analysis Technique:

According to Hermann’s advice, the content analysis should involve spontaneous materials such as the interviews, remarks or press conferences of individual leaders as opposed to official speeches. This is because such verbal expressions are more of a reflection of the individual’s personality due to their spontaneity (Hermann, 2002). Hermann states that in between a question being posed by an interviewer and the answer period ‘leaders must respond quickly without props or aid’ (2002, p.2), often independently which means that their cognitive makeup is expected to influence their response. In contrast, speeches are rarely written by the individuals themselves and additionally will have been rehearsed in advance so are not an accurate portrayal of the leader’s character. This advice finds support in the literature from scholars such as Winter, 2005, 1995; Suedfeld, 1994 and Roher, 2014 whom assert that speeches are not indicative of a political leader’s persona. Therefore, studies which have utilised Hermann’s LTA have analysed interview responses and remarks of political leaders in order to produce a psychological profile.

However, since the creation of Hermann’s LTA, social media has provided us with various other means by which we are able to observe politicians’ behaviour such as through Twitter and Facebook. Arguably, outlets such as Twitter may be more reflective of an individual’s


personality than interviews and remarks. Indeed, leaders are likely to have prepared for an interview and will possess an awareness of what questions they will be asked and thus can prepare their answers in advance alongside advisors. Additionally, interviews with political leaders are often conducted with a specific target audience in mind for example, the domestic domain or the international sphere which will probably lead to changes in behaviour and response (Hermann, 2002, p.34). In contrast, Tweets and Facebook posts can offer much more independence and spontaneity to individual leaders, facilitating their direct communication with the public and thus be more reflective of their personality traits. Additionally, deleted posts can usually still be accessed. In the case of Trump, The Trump Twitter Archive checked Trump’s Twitter every 60 seconds and recorded every tweet into the database so that tweet deleted after the site was established in 2016 are still available (Trump Twitter Archive, 2022).

This means that those tweets advised to be removed from the public domain as a result of the intervention of advisors or hindsight are still accessible. Therefore, my research will take advantage of the development of social media through using this novel form of spontaneous material and thus contributing a different perspective and form of research to LTA.

LTA and Seven Characteristics:

As discussed, Hermann’s LTA encompasses seven traits which have been particularly valuable in assessing a leader’s personality and thus their leadership style. These are: (1) the belief that one can influence or control what happens (BACE), (2) the need for power and influence, (PWR) (3) conceptual complexity (the ability to differentiate things and people in one’s environment) (CC), (4) self-confidence (SC), (5) the tendency to focus on problem solving and accomplishing something versus maintenance of the group and dealing with others’ ideas and sensitivities (TASK), (6) an individual’s general distrust or suspiciousness of others (DIS), and


(7) the intensity with which a person holds an ingroup bias (IGB) (Hermann, 1999, p. 4). These specific traits were chosen by Hermann as she believed them to ‘impact the substance and conduct of’ a political leader’s policy and ‘provide information that is relevant to assessing how political leaders respond to the constraints in their environment, process information, and what motivates them to action’ (Hermann, 2002, p.10). The following section outlines each of these traits in more detail and explains how different scores on respective traits may influence behaviour.

Belief in One’s Ability to Control Events (BACE)

Firstly, BACE refers to a leader’s perception of whether they believe that they possess extensive influence which can determine the outcome of a certain event or influence the course of the decision-making process. In order to detect the frequency of this trait in an individual’s speech, LTA focuses on verbs or action words (Hermann, 2002 p.13-14). Those leaders who score highly on this trait strongly believe that they can control policy outcomes and thus are active during policy discussions. Additionally, they ‘will want to maintain control over decision making and implementation to ensure that things, indeed, do happen’ (Hermann, 2003 p.14) resulting in them being less cooperative and unwilling to compromise. Therefore, we can assume that a leader who believes that they can control events will often act independently, ignore the advice of others and thus are more likely to make irrational or poor choices depending on their political experience. In contrast, those leaders who are low in this trait will favour collaboration and are more likely to delegate tasks and decision making to a variety of government actors (Hermann, 2002 p.14).


The Need for Power (PWR)

The extent to which an individual leaders demand for power and influence has often been central to decision-making (Winter, 1973; Preston, 2001; Rabini et al, 2020; Hermann, 2005).

If the desire for power is high ‘leaders work to manipulate the environment to have control and influence and to appear a winner’ (Hermann, 2002, p.16), acting in a highly Machiavellian manner. This means that decisions reflect the persona of those who need power due to their

‘constant involvement in policy formulation, decision, and implementation’ (Dyson, 2006, p.295). Such individuals display great levels of charisma and appear heroic in many senses yet possess little consideration or empathy for those around them (Hermann, 2003, p.15). These leaders will take full credit for any success but deflect failures on their colleagues. However, this charisma attracts a great deal of followers initially, explaining their rise to power in a democratic setting. Following a period in power ‘such leaders exploit their followers, and their goals diverge from what the people want or feel they need’ (Hermann, 2002, p.15) and as a result, often experience a significant loss in support. When leaders possess lower levels of this trait, they are not motivated purely by the desire to accumulate power. Rather, they are content working amongst equals and keen to acknowledge other’s achievements. Akin to the BACE the level of the need for power is coded by verbs (Hermann, 2002, p.17).

Conceptual Complexity (CC)

The literature has established that leaders often differ ‘on their degree of openness to contextual information based on their levels of self-confidence and conceptual complexity’ (Hermann, 2002). Conceptual complexity refers to ‘the degree of differentiation which an individual shows in describing or discussing other people, places, policies, ideas, or things’ (Hermann,


2002, p.22). Those who score highly on conceptual complexity ‘are generally more pragmatic and responsive to the interests, needs, ideas, and demands of others’ (Hermann, 2002, p.18).

They are sensitive to the context they inhibit and the needs of others around them. In colloquial terms, they succeed in ‘reading the room’ and as a result garner respect from others. In contrast, low levels indicate that the individual is close-minded and unable to understand and address situations, failing to appreciate alternative dimensions (Hermann, 2002, p.19). Coding for conceptual complexity is reliant on the presence of words which indicate that the ‘speaker can see different dimensions in the environment as opposed to words that indicate the speaker sees only a few categories along which to classify objects and ideas’ (Hermann, 2002, p.22). For example, words which indicate high levels are ‘approximately, possibility, trend, and words indicative of low conceptual complexity include: absolutely, without a doubt, certainly, and irreversible’ (Hermann, 2002,p.22).

Self Confidence (SC)

Self Confidence is a trait which is interrelated with conceptual complexity. Those who score higher on self-confidence as opposed to conceptual complexity are most likely narrow-minded ideologues whose strict principles and causes drive their motivations (Hermann, 2002, p.19).

Such leaders often have a plan on how to achieve their principles and thus can experience successes (Hermann, 2002, p.18). If an individual scores relatively low on both traits, ‘the individual is likely to be closed, reflecting the views of those around him or her and inclined to rather easily lock onto a position that will seem likely to be successful’ (Hermann, 2002, p.19). Hermann states that these are leaders who as Lasswell, 1930 and Barber, 1965 also acknowledged, enter into the political sphere with the hope of compensating for their low self-



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