U.S. Presidential Candidates John McCain and Barack Obama

October 15, 2008 by Ekaterina Egorova

Ekaterina Egorova, PhD in Political Science & President of Moscow-based Niccolo M Group of Companies
Elisabeth Egorova, Political Psychologist, Niccolo M Group of Companies

We have conducted a study in which John McCain and Barack Obama, the 2008 U.S. presidential candidates, have been compared with each other as well as examined and compared with such U.S. politicians as George Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton. The main method applied to this study was a computer psychosomatic analysis of the leaders’ answers given in their personal interviews.

It should be stressed that the nucleus of the political personality, i.e. the motives for power, achievement and affiliation, is a matter of utmost importance for comprehending future presidential activity and behavior.

The motivation for power is a principal need in the personalities of both Obama and McCain. It is twice as high as their need for affiliation and four times as high as their need for achievement. Barack Obama’s motivation for power is slightly higher than that of John McCain but considerably less than those of Bush and Cheney. This means that Obama is less likely to seek solutions in international relations by force than the present U.S. president, being more inclined to take into account the experts’ opinions rather than the opinions of his loyal acquaintances.

In contrast to Obama, McCain is somewhat afraid of power such as exercised by Bush and Cheney. In other words, the wielding of enormous presidential power is not a simple situation for McCain. His attitude to making strategic decisions is serious enough to generate his fear of complicated consequences of future decisions. However, the fear of power does not make a politician indecisive or more cautious. In crisis situations, this may result in his undesirable putting off a decision until receiving additional information that may alleviate the feeling of anxiety for the consequences of his crucial decision.

Both candidates have the same need for affiliation which is lower than that of President Bush. It is lower than their need for power and higher than their need for achievement. This suggests that both candidates are unlikely to surround themselves only with people well known and pleasant to them. They may well be equally ready to discuss problems with groups of their experts, listening to different points of view. However, owing to their high need for power and in spite of their differences, they will tend to take decisions themselves rather than jointly.

Both candidates are equally making efforts to gain the people’s support, placing their hopes on it. At the same time, they equally lack the fear of rejection. This is a very important feature for the president, indicating his openness to communication without his painful dependence on somebody else’s approval. Moreover, anyone’s coldness and criticism may hardly become a factor for manipulating the political behavior of McCain and Obama.

Achieving goals

Obama’s need for achieving goals and results is considerably higher than that of McCain, who is lagging behind even a statistically average American in this respect. In terms of his need for achievement, Obama is in a leading position among the examined U.S. politicians. While he is also leading in terms of his striving for success and results, it has not been revealed that he has ever tried to avoid facing a failure at that.

As a result, Obama is expected to use the algorithms of his previous successful decisions to a greater extent than McCain. He is likely to seek ways of achieving results, taking into account some pragmatic goals rather than ideological considerations. He will be more inclined than McCain to compromise if it is beneficial to the United States. Pragmatism in decision making is bound to be an important factor among others being equal.

The lack of both the fear of a failure and the intention to avoid it brings Obama and McCain near together. This is an important feature for a president when making strategic decisions. The fear of a failure and the intention to avoid it often leads exactly to a failure because such fear “launches” the algorithm of unsuccessful steps and decisions taken in the politician’s past.

In goal-setting, both candidates are equally ready to achieve a goal or a result rather than to avoid the problems. In this respect, their indices are high, although Hillary Clinton is, no doubt, ahead of them here. In their readiness to reach a goal, they are slightly lagging behind her. They are also second to Condoleezza Rice in their unwillingness to think in negative terms of “avoiding a problem.” “Avoiding a problem” is even more unusual for her.

Official duty

It should be noted that McCain’s need for performing his official duty (I have to) is the highest among the studied U.S. politicians. Obama’s similar need is also rather high. It is, for instance, twice as high as Bush’s. Both candidates have the same need for fulfilling their desires (I wish) that is half as high as Bush’s. The latter has the reverse ratio in which “I wish” is rated higher than “I have to.”

McCain’s index for the “we” position as a focus of attention is the highest among the studied U.S. politicians. Obama is slightly behind him, rating the second. This indicates that both candidates’ egocentrism is low. This is a very important quality for the president. Each candidate is expected to be highly capable to defend in the first place public interests, the interest of the state and its people rather than their own interests. This is more correlated with their need to fulfill their duty rather than their own desires.

In their approach to receiving information, each candidate prefers kinesthetic (sensory) information rather than visuoauditory one, valuing at that visual information more than auditory one. This means that each of them will be getting a large amount of information about any person while shaking hands with him or giving him a hug. The information received via the kinesthetic channel will be understood and analyzed better than the one received only through a visual or auditory contact. In other words, a touch, smell and taste provide both candidates with important information about the object.

It is better for each candidate to read the information rather than to listen to it. In this way, the information will be better understood, digested and learned. An oral report, negotiations and dialogues without the support of the written text make it practically equally difficult for Obama and McCain to perceive, digest and remember information and to take decisions.

Perceiving and analyzing different situations, people and objects, McCain is more likely to look for common characteristics and differences than Obama. It is important that both candidates are not inclined to making decisions by analogy, taking into consideration the similarity of objects, people and situations. These are important qualities for the decision makers since the analogy, especially a historical one, often creates the traps and leads to erroneous decisions in the crisis situations. If a stress situation occurs, it is easier for the leader, prone to similarities and analogy, to make a decision on their basis because it will allow him to find the way out of the stress situation faster. However, the erroneous decision may well bring about new crises and new stresses.

In defining the situation, Obama is inclined to obtain specific information to a greater extent than McCain. In this respect, Obama is second only to Condoleezza Rice. Among these six political leaders, he has the least propensity to exaggerate, being ahead of Rice. Obama has also the least propensity to underestimate, being ahead of McCain. This suggests that Obama may discern and define the situation as well as to formulate his analysis for the third persons more precisely than McCain.

McCain like George Bush demonstrates a high level of excitability by strongly reacting to insignificant stimuli. Such trait is the least inherent to Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton and Obama who, probably, show their greater steadiness in the situations when the stimulus must not cause a serious reaction on the part of the political leader.


In spite of his age, McCain demonstrates his hyperthymia to a greater degree than Obama. However, he is slightly lagging behind Bush and Cheney in this respect. Hyperthymia is a temperament characterized by cheerful mood, extraversion, high energy level, productiveness and creativity. This is an important trait for the political leader whose activity as president is tied up with physical and stress loads, disappointments and crises. The president’s disposition to be in good spirits helps him to endure the political and military situations difficult both for the country and the president himself.

Obama is even less prone to demonstrativeness in his behavior than McCain, remaining more natural and avoiding being showy in public. However, Rice is undoubtedly a leader in terms of natural behavior.

Obama’s index of disinclination to depression is greater than that of McCain. Proneness to depression is an extremely dangerous trait for the personality of the president. Such trait is especially dangerous in the crisis situation when depression may prevent the president from making timely and adequate decisions in unexpected situations. It is good that such trait is not inherent in both candidates.

Unfortunately, McCain’s index of paranoidness is considerably higher than that of Obama. Paranoidness suggests the presence of suspiciousness, distrust of people and facts, concentration on something and the impossibility of switching attention, bordering on morbidness. Obama’s paranoidness index is the lowest among the six politicians. George Bush and McCain are the leaders in terms of paranoidness followed by Cheney.

The present analysis does not provide the full psychological profile of the personalities of John McCain and Barack Obama. It is only a fragment of this profile. However, a number of characteristics given here are important for comprehending their political behavior today and when one of them becomes the U.S. President.

Source URL: http://radnorreports.com/2008/10/15/comparative-psychological-analysis-of-the-personalities-of-the-u-s-presidential-candidates-john-mccain-and-barack-obama/