Personality and politicians go together like speed and racehorses: the best of them have it in abundance. Needing a charismatic charm and a quick intelligence that makes them stand out from the crowd, politicians have to seem somehow superior to the rest of us or else they’ll never be elected into leadership roles.

But what exactly is it that sets them apart, and can those who wish to be leaders in other fields emulate this? The answer to the first of these questions is complex and requires a more in-depth explanation, whilst the answer to the latter is simple: ‘yes’.

The personality of the popular

In order to answer the question we posited above, a scientist named Richard Hanania carried out a study at the University of California. Getting thousands of US politicians to complete a personality questionnaire, he attempted to isolate the specific traits that suited them to leadership.

278 of those who were contacted responded and sent back answers that were compared to the average scores recorded for 2,586 members of the public who had completed the same test online.

The results were interesting. If there had ever been any doubt that politicians were a different breed entirely to the average man on the street, the survey convincingly quelled this, noting differences relating to each of the ‘Big Five’ personality traits: agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism, and openness.

They differed in the following ways:


As a rule, the politicians surveyed were shown to be more agreeable than the average person, a quality which seemed to fit them for such a leadership role. This was especially evident amongst Democrats and indicates that those who are more likeable are also more electable.


Politicians were also more conscientious than an ordinary member of the public, suggesting that this is another essential leadership quality. This was particularly prevalent amongst Republicans.


Extraversion was one of the personality traits that showed the strongest difference between members of the public and politicians, indicating that those who are more outgoing are widely viewed as having strong leadership potential.


In terms of neuroticism, politicians proved themselves to be more emotionally stable than the average person, which suggests that those who are level-headed and less ruled by their emotions make the best leaders in the eyes of voters.


Politicians were also less open to experience than the average person, which Hanania speculated was down to the unattractiveness of a life of committee hearings and debates to more artistic types. Thus, leaders tend to be less creative and more grounded in reality.

Showing important differences between those who lead and those who follow, this revolutionary research implies that those best suited to being in charge are level-headed, outgoing, and rewards driven individuals who come across as being incredibly capable and confident in their own abilities – traits not unlike those seen in those who rule the not-so-dissimilar world of commerce.

To learn more about our leadership consulting services and what they could teach you, get in touch with Anthony Gregg Partnership to see how we can help.