The homo politician or the ideal politician


Plato or Machiavelli? Humanity has always been shaking its head over the personal qualities of the ideal politician. For Plato, intelligence, understood as wisdom and reason, readiness to learn and perseverance were among the most important qualities of a good politician. For the Florentine politician and philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli things looked a bit different. For him, apart from intelligence, the focus was on uncompromisingness, ambition, pragmatism and sublimity over moral claims. The wise man already pointed out at the beginning of the 16. Century point out that a politician "must not possess these qualities, but must give the impression to possess them". Machiavelli therefore advised his colleagues to "put themselves in the foreground and attract attention as much as possible in order to win the favor of the people on his side".

Although Machiavelli should be right in many ways, his assessment is far from true, at least on one point: that politicians would win the voters' favor. Because the reputation of politicians is today despite a gigantic PR machinery at a historic low. Last year, for example, the opinion research institute OGM found that 85 percent of the Austrian population no longer had confidence in their politicians (chart on the right).

Politicians Trust

Democratist 2015 (chart on the next page) shows a new low in confidence in politicians: 85 percent of respondents have little or no faith in the people's representatives. According to the latest Eurobarometer poll, 66 percent of Austrians think that corruption is widespread in their country. Although the EU average for this assessment is 76 percent, the result is nevertheless worrying.

Politiker Vertrauen
19 confidence in politicians? Source: from "Demokratiefefund 2015", OGM / Initiative majority voting and democracy reform, 2015

Just a madman

Even today's science draws a highly controversial image of successful politicians. A whole bunch of psychologists and psychiatrists is now dedicated to the research of leaders and attests these sometimes psychopathic features. This so-called dissociative personality disorder is characterized firstly by the fact that those affected are extremely charming, charismatic, self-confident and eloquent. On the other hand, they lack any empathy, emotional stability and social responsibility. Not least, they prove to be masters of manipulation. However, the majority of these investigations come from the corporate context, as it is sometimes very difficult to get in touch with successful politicians, let alone conduct personality tests with them.

For example, the Canadian psychologist Robert Hare found that there are about three and a half times as many psychopaths on the boardrooms of corporations as the average for the rest of the population. Boston psychiatry professor Nassir Ghaemi also discovered amazing connections between mental disorders and leadership skills. In his book “Erstklassiger Wahnsinn” (A first-rate madness) he even put the thesis on “When there is peace and the ship of state just has to stay on course, then sane leaders are suitable. But when our world is in turmoil, spiritually sick leaders are suitable ”.

Plato's disciples

A completely different personality profile is drawn by the social psychologist Andreas Olbrich-Baumann from the University of Vienna. As part of his research work, he extracted 17's personal qualities from philosophical, political, psychological, and sociological literature, all of which had a proven track record of political success. These were subsequently weighted by Austrian MPs and gave the following profile: Honesty and positive self-expression were therefore the most important ingredients of success for a successful political career, followed by charisma, ambition and initiative, stress tolerance, experience, critical ability and optimism.

The Austrian political scientist Jens Tenscher came up with a similar personality profile. In 2012, he carried out a survey among all Austrian MPs, most of whom named political trustworthiness, responsible behavior and honesty as the most important characteristics. "The results suggest that the ranking of the Austrian members of the National Council corresponds more closely to Plato's concept of the politician," said Olbrich-Baumann. It seems that our ideal of a politician has not changed much since the last 2363 years, when Platon's Politea was written.

A question of opportunities

Notwithstanding these empirically well-documented personality profiles, Professor Olbrich-Baumann simultaneously admits: "A person's behavior depends to a large extent on the situation and only to a lesser extent on his personality. Some researchers assume a ratio of 75: 25 percent ".

Political scientist Lars Vogel, who has been analyzing political careers at the University of Jena for years, also relativizes the role of personal characteristics for political success: “Political careers are not least a question of opportunities”. According to him, politicians are primarily recruited according to their symbolic properties, ie according to which groups and which competencies they symbolize, because "different political functions have different requirements". Accordingly, for representative positions, for example, social skills are in the foreground, for professional positions, in turn, technical skills. In his opinion, what successful politicians have in common is the fact that they usually have to pass a long test in various internal party functions before they are promoted to the party sidelines. The case that a person is called into politics by a shaman in the Vienna Woods, as was reportedly the case with NEOS co-founder Martin Strolz, should therefore be rather rare.

From the perspective of the voters

In a justified way, it can now be argued that both personality profiles were ultimately created by politicians themselves and merely reflect their self-perception. Therefore, they should be compared with another personality profile, which reflects the view of the German population. According to this profile too, the credibility of the politician is the most important quality, followed by expertise, closeness to the people, drive and sympathy. The comparison suggests that politicians clearly overemphasize the importance of their rhetorical and media skills, while voters in reality desire more proximity to citizens. The sympathy also tends to be overrated by the deputies. In addition, however, it seems to agree on the essential features.

The research suggests that the low levels of trust that politicians have today are due not so much to their lousy character as to the multiple (economic, euro, EU, refugee, Russia) crises, which they have to face. For example, the Austrian political scientist Marcelo Jenny says that "the voters feel this crisis pressure and pass it on to the political elite". Still, the question remains who triggered these crises. Last but not least, beware of the charming, charismatic, self-confident and eloquent leaders and think twice about giving them our voice.

The most important features for politician success 

Political experience
Experience of effective behavior in politics due to longer work in politics

To be honest, sincere and free with other people

Ability to handle stress yourself; not easily panic; rarely give up

To give the impression to others, to look optimistically into the future and express confidence in one's own statements

Express your opinion without hesitation; to occupy a social supremacy; prevail over others

Adventurous, sociable, cordial, as well as active and cheerful

The ability to infuse respect, to attract attention, as well as to motivate other persons by presence alone

Need for power
With regard to a particular goal, they tend to control and coordinate others

Low affiliation need
Be guided by decision-making at the matter level and not act out of concern for personal relationships

Recognize and use opportunities; Set actions; Like challenges; others like to convince themselves of their own ideas

Energy / Stress Tolerance
Possess physical health and emotional resilience

Feeling like coping with possible difficulties

Internal control conviction
To be able to influence destiny itself; Responsibility for your own activity and performance

Attribution of integrity
Be judged by other people to be honest and trustworthy

Learn quickly and draw conclusions; Develop strategies and solve problems

Review complex issues and form your own judgment

Plan your own activities purposefully and work efficiently

Source: from "Plato's Heirs: Requirement Profiles in Austrian Politics", Andreas Olbrich-Baumann et al., University of Vienna

Eigenschaften Politiker
Characteristics politician

Photo / Video: Shutterstock, Option.

Written by Veronika Janyrova

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