Tag Archives: Political psychology

Ignacio Arana Araya – The “personal” versus the “institutional” presidency: An artificial divide

This is a guest post by Ignacio Arana Araya, Institute for Politics and Strategy, Carnegie Mellon University

Mainstream media and political analysts seem obsessed covering the eccentricities and peculiarities of the occupant of the White House, adventuring how Trump’s limitations as a statesman may have undesired impacts on executive governance. Trump’s unpredictable behavior and decision-making style have stunned many observers, but both recent and historical presidents of the Americas also had flamboyant personalities (and performances). Idiosyncratic presidents, in fact, have always existed. Not so long ago, Presidents Hugo Chávez of Venezuela (1999-2013) and Abdalá Bucaram of Ecuador (1996-1997) used to hit international headlines for their extravagances. Bucaram, popularly nicknamed “El Loco,” was eventually impeached by Congress for – officially – being a madman. What these eccentric characters remind us is that those who hold the most important political offices in their countries bring their unique personalities to power with them, and such uniqueness has an impact on their performance. However, students of the presidency have generally failed to quantitatively measure how the personality traits of the leaders may impact executive governance.

Arguably, this failure occurs mainly because students of the presidency have failed to absorb research on differential psychology. This brand of psychological research studies the individual differences of humans, or how people differ from each other in how they feel, act, think and behave. Absorbing the theoretical, empirical, and methodological contributions of the differential psychology literature would also allow integrating the research of scholars who focus on the “personal” presidency and those who center on the “institutional” presidency.

Both research streams have run through parallel corridors, leading to conflicting views on how the presidency works. The president-centered (also called “personality-centered”) approach examines decision making in the executive branch based on presidential behavior. Scholars from this group examine the ability of presidents to persuade individuals and organizations to accommodate policy making to their preferences. They argue that the heads of government have plenty of room to act and decide at their own discretion. Since the individual attributes of the leaders influence policy outcomes, it is necessary to analyze the personal characteristics of the leaders to understand executive politics (Neustadt 1960; Barber 1972; Greenstein 2009).

In contrast, presidency-centered (also called “institutional presidency”) studies minimize the importance of presidents as individuals and center the explanation of policy outcomes on the institutional setting in which heads of government work (e.g., Moe 1993; Dickinson 2004; Lewis 2008). The central assumption in this approach is that different presidents will behave similarly in identical contexts. It regards the study of the characteristics of the leaders as unworthy because more explanatory leverage is -supposedly- gained when scholars analyze the effect of institutional factors on policy outcomes.

The opposing theoretical views have contributed to a divide of students of the presidency along two methodological lines with little interconnection. While presidency-centered researchers mainly conduct statistical or game-theoretic analyses, most president-centered studies are qualitative.

I argue that the division wall between presidency-centered and president-centered explanations of the presidency is built on unsound foundations. Presidency-centered scholars have assumed that the personal characteristics of presidents 1) are of little relevance to understand their behavior and that 2) such features cannot be systematically measured because they are idiosyncratic. Although president-centered researchers do not share these assumptions, they have also failed to recognize that 1) on differential psychology there is a broad consensus on what human personality is, and that 2) personalities tend to be stable over time.

These misconceptions have had profound consequences. Presidency-centered researchers claim that presidents cannot be used as units of analysis in quantitative studies (e.g., King 1993) and that analytically little is lost leaving the uniqueness of the heads of government aside. However, a vast corpus of psychological research contradicts the assumption that the specificity of presidents is irrelevant to understand their behavior. The literature on differential psychology has shown that all individuals have stable personality differences and that these differences strongly explain their behavior (Judge et al. 1999; Goldberg 1990; McCrae and Costa 1997; Costa and McCrae 1992). Since personality traits are stable, they can be systematically studied. Presidents can be treated as units of analysis in statistical analyses. Although president-centered scholars recognize the importance of the personal characteristics of the presidents, they have often discussed psychological attributes of the leaders arbitrarily, paying little attention to psychological research (e.g., Greenstein 2009).

I propose that to have a deeper understanding of the presidency, we need to start testing hypotheses that include presidency-centered and president-centered paradigms. To do so, it is necessary to reposition the individual differences of leaders as a central cause of political phenomena in quantitative research. And we cannot do that unless we absorb the knowledge produced from the discipline that has studied how humans differ from each for the last 130 years.

References

Barber, James D. 1972. The Presidential Character: Predicting Performance in the White House. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Costa, Paul T. Jr., and Robert R. McCrae. 1992. “Normal personality assessment in clinical practice: The NEO Personality Inventory.” Psychological assessment 4(1): 5-13.

Dickinson, Matthew J. 2004. “Agendas, agencies and unilateral action: new insights on presidential power?” In Congress & the Presidency: A Journal of Capital Studies 31(1):99-109.

Goldberg, Lewis R. 1990. “An Alternative ‘Description of Personality’: The Big Five Factor Structure.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 59(6): 1216-1229.

Greenstein, Fred I. 2009. Inventing the job of president: leadership style from George Washington to Andrew Jackson. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Judge, Timothy A., Chad A. Higgins, Carl J. Thoresen, and Murray R. Barrick. 1999. “The Big Five Personality Traits, General Mental Ability, and Career Success across the Life Span.” Personnel Psychology 52: 621–652.

King, Gary. 1993. “The Methodology of Presidential Research,” in George Edwards, III, John H. Kessel, and Bert A. Rockman, eds., Researching the Presidency: Vital Questions, New Approaches. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh: 387–412.

Lewis, David E. 2008. The politics of presidential appointments: Political control and bureaucratic performance. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

McCrae Robert R., Paul T. Costa Jr. 1997. “Personality Trait Structure as a Human Universal.” American Psychologist 52(5): 509-516.

Moe, Terry M. 1993. “Presidents, Institutions, and Theory.” In George C. Edwards III, John H. Kessel and Bert A. Rockman, eds., Researching the Presidency: Vital Questions, New Approaches. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Neustadt, Richard. 1960. Presidential Power: The Politics of Leadership. New York: Wiley and Sons.

Esra Çuhadar, Juliet Kaarbo, Baris Kesgin, Binnur Ozkececi-Taner – Do Personalities Change when Prime Ministers Become Presidents?

This is a guest post by Esra Çuhadar, Juliet Kaarbo, Baris Kesgin, Binnur Ozkececi-Taner. Research for this blogpost and the related research was supported by a TUBITAK Evrena grant (110K112) and a BAGEP award from the Science Academy.

Institutional perspectives in political science have been critical of personality theories, arguing that individuals’ behaviors can easily vary with different institutional incentives, constraints and opportunities, and role expectations. In opposition, personality approaches see individual characteristics as resilient and resisting change in case of situations and contexts. As this debate remains unresolved, in a recent study published in Political Psychology, we asked two questions: Do all political leaders change their personality characteristics when they occupy different institutional roles? And, which aspects of personalities are most likely to change across role positions? More specifically, we sought to understand what types of leaders would be most likely to change their expressed political personality when they came into a new political position. Our examination of three leaders who held different institutional roles in Turkish politics provided us with the opportunity for this theoretical investigation. We investigated and compared the personality profiles of three Turkish leaders—Suleyman Demirel, Abdullah Gul, and Turgut Ozal—and examined any changes in their leadership traits across roles. Each leader served as both prime minister and president –Gul was also minister of foreign affairs. Our study must be considered preliminary, and is suggestive of future research to develop our understanding of agents’ interactions with institutional structures.

Our study utilizes the Leadership Trait Analysis (LTA) framework.  As a prominent approach to the study of political leaders, LTA framework conceptualizes personality as a combination of seven traits: belief in an ability to control events, conceptual complexity, need for power, distrust of others, in-group bias, self-confidence, and task orientation. These seven traits combine in particular ways to produce specific behaviors by leaders. For example, leaders, who have a high belief in their ability to control events and a high need for power, are expected to challenge constraints; leaders low in need for power and/or who do not believe they can control events are expected to respect constraints. Conceptual complexity and self-confidence are related to and predict leaders’ openness to information. Leaders with high scores on both traits and leaders who have high complexity and low self-confidence are expected to be open to information, whereas leaders with low scores on both traits and leaders with high self-confidence and low complexity are expected to be closed to information. These two composite traits combine with a leader’s motivation for leading to produce a typology of eight different leadership styles, namely active independent, collegial, evangelical, directive, expansionist, incremental, influential, and opportunistic.

Taking advantage of the Turkish political context in which prime minister and presidency roles are defined very clearly and differently by the Turkish constitution, and in which our three selected leaders served in both of these roles, we used a quasi-experimental design to first construct these leaders’ personality profiles and then examine them comparatively across roles.  More specifically, we proposed that personality characteristics are more likely to change when certain types of leaders change roles.  More specifically, we expected the following:

  • Leaders who respect constraints (low in belief in ability to control events and low in need for power) are more likely to change other traits when they change roles.
  • Leaders open to information (high in complexity and high in self-confidence) are more likely to change other traits when they change roles.
  • Leaders with higher scores on complexity are more likely to change other traits when they change roles.

We also expected some personality characteristics are more likely to change when new roles carry with them specific expectations and responsibilities. For example, we suggested that

  • Task focus may be more likely to shift from goal-oriented to relationship oriented if the leader shifts to a less policy-focused position (e.g., from prime minister to president position).
  • In-group bias is likely to decrease when the leader shifts from a partisan role (e.g., prime minister elected from a political party) to a less partisan role (e.g., president).
  • Belief in ability to control events is likely to decline with a change from the prime minister to president role because prime ministers are considered the “doer” role, and presidents are more symbolic in parliamentary systems.

Our results support the expectation that leaders’ personalities can remain stable across different institutional roles. Personality characteristics for our leaders exhibited little change, when these leaders changed roles. We observed change in the same direction—all declined from prime minister to president profile—in three of the traits: belief in ability to control events, need for power, and task focus. However, in only one of these traits (task focus), we saw significant difference across roles. This finding has led us to conclude that personality is not directly determined by institutional incentives. We infer that this is expected by the changes in demands and expectations of the Turkish prime minister and president roles as articulated in the constitution. While the prime minister is a more active executive position emphasizing problem solving and policy implementation, the presidency is highlighted for its consensus building and above-politics status.

We also found that our leaders varied from one another, and from other world leaders.  In other words, while there is no single (Turkish) president or prime minister profile, there is no one Turkish leader profile either. This finding is important as it helps us to evaluate another theoretical suggestion: that certain types of leaders may be more likely to change traits when they change roles. Our assessment provided mixed support for this argument. The trait stability we observed in two of our leaders was consistent with their orientations to challenge constraints, but this did not hold for all leaders. There was no clear pattern for openness to information as a mediating variable and mixed support for complexity as we had hypothesized and self-confidence.

We encourage future research to take seriously the specific role demands associated with institutional positions and how leaders’ personalities interact with those demands. This would build on our study (published in the Journal of International Relations and Development) that examines Turkish leaders’ reactions to a variety of structural constraints.  A particularly promising avenue for future research would integrate work on role identities and their effects on personality traits. The relative potency of individual differences and institutional positions is an important question, worthy of further empirical exploration and theoretical development.

Esra Çuhadar is an Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at Bilkent University in Turkey. She was a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University during the 2011-2012 academic year. Dr. Cuhadar’s research interests include conflict resolution and political psychology. Her research has been published in academic journals such as Political Psychology, Computers in Human Behavior, Negotiation and Conflict Management Research, Negotiation Journal, International Negotiation, Journal of Peace Research, Mediterranean Politics, International Studies Perspectives, Turkish Studies and Perceptions and also in various book chapters. Dr Cuhadar received one of the Young Scientist Awards (BAGEP) by the Science Academy in Turkey and received research grants from USIP, Sabanci University, TUBITAK, and German Marshall Fund.

Juliet Kaarbo is Professor in Foreign Policy at the University of Edinburgh and co-director of Edinburgh’s Centre for Security Research.  Her research focuses on political psychology, leadership and decision making, group dynamics, foreign policy analysis and theory, parliamentary political systems, and national roles and has appeared in numerous journals including International Studies Quarterly, European Journal of International Relations, International Studies Review, Political Psychology, Cooperation and Conflict, International Interactions, Foreign Policy Analysis, and Leadership Quarterly.   Kaarbo’s books include Coalition Politics and Cabinet Decision Making:  A Comparative Analysis of Foreign Policy Choices University of Michigan Press 2012) and Domestic Role Contestation, Foreign Policy and International Relations (co-edited with Cristian Cantir; Routledge 2016).

Baris Kesgin is Assistant Professor Political Science at Susquehanna University. He specializes in foreign policy analysis and political leadership -more specially, of Israel and Turkey. His research appeared in Journal of International Relations and Development, International Studies Perspectives, Political Psychology, Perceptions, and Turkish Studies. 

Binnur Ozkececi-Taner is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Middle East Studies at Hamline University (St. Paul, MN, USA).  She received her Ph.D. from Syracuse University and also holds a degree in Peace Studies from the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute.  In addition to her book that examines Turkish foreign policymaking in the 1990s, Ozkececi-Taner’s publications have appeared in journals including Political Psychology, Journal of International Relations and Development, Contemporary Security Policy, Foreign Policy Analysis, Mediterranean Politics, and Turkish Politics, as well as in books, most recently Political Psychology of Turkish Political Behaviour.