Mental health practitioners answer the eternal question.
Jeb Bush might have pledged to conduct his campaign “joyfully,” but it’s hard to see the modern-day presidential campaign—months on the road, relentless attacks, kowtowing to donors—as anything but joyless. And if you make it through all that, your prize is one of the most stressful jobs in the world. Why do they do it? To understand, Politico Magazine asked leading psychologists and psychiatrists to get inside the candidates’ heads and diagnose the urge to run. Is it narcissism? Masochism? Psychosis? Are presidential candidates just like the rest of us—or are they just out of their minds?
Story Continued Below
‘Grandiose narcissism levels are higher in more recent than in earlier presidents’
Research going back as far as 1998 suggests that modern politicians are more narcissistic than people in other professions. But in fact, politicians—at least those in positions of high power—might also be more narcissistic than ever. In a 2013 study published in Psychological Science, we and several colleagues examined a trait called grandiose narcissism, which comprises immodesty, boastfulness and interpersonal dominance (a certain presidential candidate in a gold-plated tower in Manhattan comes to mind). For every president up to and including George W. Bush, we asked eminent biographers and experts to complete extensive personality ratings for the five years before each president took office. The ratings revealed an intriguing trend: Grandiose narcissism levels are higher in more recent presidents than in earlier ones. Despite some caveats to this result, we also found that levels of several other traits, such as those linked to interpersonal oddity, were not higher in more recent presidents. Ultimately, our findings raise the possibility that the mounting pressures on candidates to be telegenic and adept at self-presentation may be selecting for heightened self-centeredness.