Political psych (cont)

Politicians, like all people, are more complicated beasts than pop psychology reveals.

The Sunday Star-Times echoed my personality test survey of politicians earlier this year, with a test on John Key and David Cunliffe.

The difference between Key and Cunliffe was intriguing. Cunliffe was more extrovert than Key, but less “agreeable”.

It was disappointing that the results were used to fit the pre-existing theme of politicians being gregarious. I suspect they weren’t helped by the politicians crafting their answers to the ten questions. Few politicians would want to reveal their inner doubts to a newspaper.

My survey a few months ago of over three dozen New Zealand politicians uncovered a wide range of personalities, and a surprising level of introversion. It revealed politicians to be keener on a day with the family, and a night in, or a lie down, than doing the political circuit.

On the two subjects of the survey, Dr Marc Wilson, head of Victoria University’s School of Psychology, was perceptive. Most interesting was the degree to which Cunliffe has “mongrel”; effectively a mix of personality traits which may be difficult to like, but make for a tough-minded, flexible, politician. Wilson said:

but in Cunliffe’s case, the lower agreeableness may mean he’ll find it harder to keep on smiling as the the day draws long".

A difficulty with the SST story is that it mixed up judgements on personality, which is Wilson’s specialty, with judging what makes an effective politician, which is mine. There’s as many way to do politics well, as there is to do life well.

So the application of psychology to political aptitude is massively interesting, but tough to draw lessons. My survey of politicians showed a wide range of people go into, and stay in, politics. That means there’s more than one trait for political success.

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