Psychological Portrait of Power and Status

Yes or No Prime Minister?

A  Psychological portrait of Power and Status: Theresa May & Jeremy Corbyn

One cannot seriously believe in all we hear daily on news feeds on television news and all other forms of media about the promises of our PM candidates, or perhaps we do. What is truth and what is not? What factors might influence how and why you vote?

Psychologists can be richly informative in both pre-election and post-election  psychological analysis of each candidates underpinning motives, body language, arguments of persuasion and self enhancing behaviours and so much more.  Let’s take a look at what variables influence you the voter.

Why do politicians particularly take self presentation seriously?

First it’s an integral part of human nature and both Theresa and Jeremy wish to use it to their political advantage. It’s a way of strategically gaining control over one’s life and social behaviour, of maximising positive feedback from others  and minimizing costs. We form a self image based on others social perceptions of us and so it’s vital during electioneering that we convey a particular message to the constituency. Theresa and Jeremy  have spent lots of time  with those who see them as they see themselves.  Let’s take a look at how this works in reality.  PM Candidates will be constantly shrewd enough to  be highly selective in making their target electioneering  areas politically productive. Here we see Theresa among her devotees surrounded by what would appear to be white professionally aspiring young and older middle class constituents. There is a synchrony between them where both use and understand the language and style of the manifesto. Notice the expression on their faces and  this reinforces Theresa’s self perceptions and acceptance of her messages. This self presentation helps us get what we want and conveys the political power and authority of our status in life.

Note a much similar form of message conveyance in Jeremy on the blaze trail among the labour oriented working class areas.  You might just observe the passion in Jeremy Corbyn’s voice and use of rhetoric here at a rally in Leeds. On a similar note, listen carefully to how Theresa uses the language of persuasion to convince all who are convinced by her argument.

Self Presentation and Ingratiation during Elections

Both candidate s are motivated to self present in a way that will turn heads strategically. The Immaculately groomed and stylish Mrs May   always puts much significance into her personal self image and  uses her fashion to convey her legitimate authority as ex PM  it is rare to find the Vicars daughter dressed down  but always prepared to be taken seriously,  for many powerful women this works and always has done irrespective of the message that will accompany it.Jeremy  has  noticed that he had to  take a more serious look at his own socialistically inclined working class political leader’s dress code.  He has more recently seen in the House of Commons dressed rather smartly and this reflects how he also wishes to be seen as a future PM.

Psychologically one of the main social psychological factors that give both concern will be what we psychologists call Social Anxiety. No matter how powerful we are, most political leaders will experience to some extent social anxiety once put under severe pressure during question time in studio discussions. One reason is that they might not have the knowledge base to provide adequate answers to viewers’ questions. Even if they have, social anxiety can be caused by the unexpected studio scenario. We have seen this recently when Mrs May opted not to waste her time being involved with meaningless chit chat among competitors  Sometimes leading politicians use this type of scenario to present a case where they have been economic with the truth and may appear coy and elusive.  In order to defend their self image and self perceived competence, they often make external attributions about the topic. In other words rather than take personally responsibility for an event, they blame it on others or create and ambiguous response.

Ingratiation in PM candidates

This is an attempt to get others to like us and Politicians and others use flattery besides other psychological tactics, but on the constituency visits will use compliments as one of their persuasive techniques. Asking questions to the workers as does Jeremy and to the residents of country villages and in factories within their constituencies, this tactic always works. People also express their liking for others as constituents through non verbal means as well. When we want others to like us or vote for us, we may unconsciously mimic their behaviour, such as mirroring each other, leg crossing and more. Voters we know from research will like their candidate more when we subtly imitate their behaviour.  Look at how both politicians use smiles and laughs when interacting with their constituents. This is a powerful psychological tool I they use to get others to like them.  A smile means “I like you … and you make me happy”, but others may not be so convinced

Politicians in Power positions

When we view politicians like Donald Trump, Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn, Nicola Sturgeon and such like, psychologists find that they are so much focused on the content of their messages and less on gaining their voters likeability. They exercise their power to get exactly what they want. Ingratiating oneself with power politicians and their status is very effective, even in the business world. Look at Trump for a good example of not only power but ingratiation.  Politicians like Theresa and Jeremy have a broad range of political tools at their daily disposal, they really don’t need to ingratiate anyone. Media coverage usually can do that for them. In relation to multiple audiences as we have seen recently in our election debates.  Getting others to like them and wanting one of them as their next PM becomes tricky as they ingratiate themselves with two or more diverse audiences such as Conservative versus Labour  and the Liberal Democrats. It’s a case of what we call Multiple Audience dilemmas, where Jeremy and Theresa will attempt to present different images to different audiences at the same time.

Political Focus on Social Dysfunction in Parliamentary Candidates

In political psychology there is another psychological process known as the “Paradox of Self –Handicapping”. These are people in general, including senior politicians, who after early success in their political career, begin to make statements on television that could act against them in Parliamentary debate and voting. Conversely, it can turn out to be a positive strategy.Self- handicapping is especially likely to occur when people doubt that previous achievements accurately reflect their actual abilities and efforts. An example is that the much younger Jeremy Corbyn might attribute his political charisma and success among the left wing activists and Irish Socialists to his being in the right place at the right time, and Theresa May to her student involvement in Conservative politics and in volunteering. The difficulty both experience now is that similar high profile performances in years or months gone by may no longer be sustainable in the long term. Both will have to endure many years ahead of maintaining ultra high and tenacious performances across Europe Post Brexit, and equally sustain optimum performance in competence to deliver.

Do politicians have particular personality traits?

Although there has not been much empirical research into the personality traits of politicians, there has certainly been a lot of commentary on this topic from psychoanalysts and other clinicians. The extensive media coverage of politicians’ lives here in UK and in USA provides ample opportunity for clinicians to make inferences about politicians’ psychological traits. Notably, the conclusions that different clinicians draw are quite similar. One of the most common traits that clinicians talk about is that of narcissism. In effect, narcissism refers to a very fragile and unstable sense of self. In order to compensate for their fragile self esteem, narcissistic people become preoccupied with their self image and intensely sensitive to perceived shame or humiliation. Typical narcissists have a grandiose sense of self, with an inflated sense of self importance and an elevated need for attention, status and recognition.

What is the Narcissistic Personality Inventory?

The Narcissistic Personality Inventory is a self-report questionnaire that assesses a person’s narcissistic personality traits. Published by Raskin and Hall in 1979, the NPI has become a widely used test of narcissistic traits. In 1984, Robert Emmons divided the total NPI score into four distinct dimensions, Leadership/Authority, Superiority/Arrogance, Self-Absorption/Self-Admiration, and Exploitativeness/Entitlement. These personality traits can be seen in many of our politiicians but not in others. They are much more common in newcomers into the political arena at Westminster who need to be seen and heard.