We admit this one is tricky. We understand that many of you believe that Obama is an NF type, but nonetheless we believe that he is an ENTP (and thus, contrary to popular opinion, not a Feeling type).
Apart from some Keirsians, who believe that Obama is an INTJ, the majority opinion seems to be that Obama is some sort of ENF. So why have we typed him as ENTP? ENFs seek to soothe, while ENTPs play the devil’s advocate and try to stir things up, right? At any rate, the reason Obama certainly isn’t an introvert is that he in no way seeks to insert a buffer between his own psyche and reality as it objectively exists, which is the prime Jungian criterion for introversion.
Certainly, if we look at Obama’s 2008 campaign platform and his message of “Hope” and “A More Perfect Union”, these messages are clearly in accordance with an ENF mindset. But that does not mean that the man himself has ENF preferences. In fact, looking beyond the surface, Obama has some classical ENTP traits, like an elitist, biting humor and an uncompromising disagreeableness in private negotiations. And though he has written two biographical books, central areas of his life (for example, how he came to attend Harvard) are still shrouded in secrecy – Obama, then, is exactly the kind of man who (in the words of Machiavelli) “wears one face in public and another in private.”
To gain some orientation we could ask ourselves: Does Obama introvert Feeling (Fi) or extrovert Feeling (Fe)?
Introverted Feeling (Fi) is subjective and ego-based: It flows from the inner world of the subject’s psyche and is largely independent of the external situation. As such, Fi can seem child-like, self-indulgent, awkward and inappropriate. But to make up for all of this, Fi is sincere.
Extroverted Feeling (Fe) is objective and feeds off the external situation. Fe infuses the subject with the mood of any given situation, enabling the subject to articulate just the right words and sentiments in a given situation, just what people want to hear. The price to pay, however, is that, as Fe is fed off of the external situation (rather than off of the subject’s inner psyche), Fe can be shallow, vague, vapid and insincere – “a means to an end.”
Barack Obama is clearly an person who extroverts Feeling.
Introverted Feeling (Fi) appears in ENFPs.
So Obama is either an ENFJ or an ENTP.
Which means we should ask ourselves: Is Obama primarily an externally-observing pattern-recognizer (Ne) or an externally-judging mood-articulator (Fe)? We admit that the answer is difficult, yet we firmly believe that Obama is an ENTP who has learned to suppress his Ne to an unusual degree.
In reply to those who insist that Obama’s use of Extroverted Feeling is beyond the range of an ENTP we posit that his use of Introverted Thinking would be equally beyond the range of an ENFJ, even the best of whom, unlike Obama, have to mind a tendency to fall into sloppy logic (because Thinking is their repressed function). The corresponding ENTP shortcoming is their tragicomical trouble with Sensing attention to detail – a case in point being Obama’s notorious inability to hold on to a piece of paper he will be needing shortly, causing his personal assistant never to give it to him until the last possible moment. His ESTJ wife also teases him about his deficiency of Sensing (her own auxiliary function) such as his inability to put together goodie bags for a kid’s birthday party, whereas there is no evidence that she finds his Thinking wanting – and Thinking dominants tend to find all Feelers’ Thinking wanting at some time or another!
Finally, Obama is known for being argumentative and sardonic in private, challenging his associates on the clarity and consistency of their meaning even in smalltalk and enjoying a spirited ribbing. This is the preferred aloof socializing of an ENTP, whereas there are no reports of Obama privately engaging in the emotionally laden bonding that is the preferred intimate behavior of the ENFJ. (See our ENFJ typings for examples of such politicians’ preoccupation with tuning into and mirroring other people’s feelings.)
Update November 2012: When this blog post was first posted, popular knowledge of the cognitive functions was not as widespread as it is today. Therefore we tried to avoid delving too much into function theory when writing this post. Since then, more people have jumped on the bandwagon, and so the need for a “version 2” of this post, relying more explicitly on the cognitive functions, has grown increasingly pertinent. Until we get around to that, however, we would like to add the following remarks to what we said above:
Our typing of Obama as an ENTP is controversial. It is perhaps the single most controversial typing on our site. Reasonable people can disagree over his type.
It is a shame that Jungian typology is out of fashion with the academic establishment, for while the public at large seems very keen on pegging Obama as an (e)NF type, the academic psychologists who have given their guesses with regards to the “Big Five” model tend to score him very low on the trait of Agreeableness: They tend to regard him as a “cold fish”; a cynical (and logical) operator.
The thing that is deceiving about Obama is that he is extremely subdued and thus very much NOT what most people would expect of an Ne-dominant type. However, we still maintain that Ne-Ti-Fe-Si are the functions that make the most sense for him, cognitively.
Behaviorally, though, Obama behaves “like a J”, which again is also something that academic psychologists will attest to. But alas – what we have here then is one of those relatively rare cases where tendencies of cognition and tendencies of behavior diverge. (In a recent interview Obama himself hints at an explanation for this divergence when he says that living a structured life is “not my natural state. … But at some point in my life I overcompensated.”)
As we explain in our Bill Gates video (from ca. 10:00 and onwards), Jungian typology is really not about behavior, which is pretty much the no. 1 reason for mistypings: People tend to look at the person’s behavior, not at the cognition. Indeed, if people would take the time to read Psychological Types, they’d see that cognition is about 90% of the type portraits. Predictions of actual behavior are added to those portraits almost as afterthoughts.
Ok. So far, so good, but what about Obama’s type?
To get closer to the mark, we would like to argue against a counter-claim. Incidentally, many people have criticized our Bill Gates video for doing more to falsify the “Bill Gates is an INTP”-claim than to argue the “Bill Gates is an ENTJ”-claim. This criticism seems to indicate some misunderstanding about how science is supposed to work, since one should actually aim to falsify all claims and then go with the one that resists falsification the best rather than trying to prove the claims that one has already settled on in advance.
Thus, we pick a counter-claim. At this time, the most popular typing of Obama appears to be that of (e)NFJ. Noting that NTPs and NFJs each use Fe-Ti, the central question then becomes: Is Obama an Ni-Se type, or is he an Ne-Si type?
As the people who have read Psychological Types will know, NTPs have objective observations and subjective judgments, that is to say, their observations and information are easy to follow, but their judgments are more ‘internal’ and harder for people who do not themselves prefer Ne-Ti to follow. (Which is all very ironic since NTPs, for the life of them, try to construct judgments that are universally valid, as something that can live on outside themselves [e.g. Kant].)
So Ne-Ti is predominantly external observations and internal judgments. With Ni-Fe it is the other way around. Using an early example of Obama in 1995 as a data point, we note that while his behavior and manner of speaking would, in Big Five terms, point to high Conscientiousness (what could loosely and erroneously be called “J” in terms of Jungian type), his underlying cognition does not point to a preference for judgments that are outwardly directed.
For example, Obama speaks for a very long time about his plight growing up, his lack of proper role models and so on. The length at which he speaks and his dignified seriousness make him appear to be speaking profoundly, but he consistently fails to bottom line his observations (or what an extroverted judger refers to as ‘getting to the point’). He himself does not naturally make it a priority to define what we should be feeling about all this or to formulate any kind of call to action. It is only when the interviewer summarizes his points (05:55) that we start seeing actual extroverted judgment in action. This pattern is repeated throughout the video.
Another point to note is that Obama seems to reject the interviewer’s consistent pitches for Obama to offer his own value judgments or his own subjective observations on the matter. Instead he keeps steering things back onto a track of objective observation, backed by a minimum of analytical information processing. In other words, he is quick to bring the ball back onto the NTP court. Now, the reader may object that Obama simply doesn’t want to talk about “personal stuff”, but this claim is in itself not sufficient to explain his seemingly painless ability to shift into Ne mode and just stay there. For example, at around 7:30 in the Obama in 1995 video Obama launches into a prolonged analysis where he continually stresses a multitude of observations, including non-central ones.
As Myers says, Ne users subject their inner understanding to the outer situation, while Ni users subject the outer situation to their inner understanding. Thus we believe that the observations that we have offered above attest to Obama having a preference for Ne over Ni.