Sex, Drugs, and Genital Photos: Does Character Count in Political Elections?
Though we publicly eviscerate politicians who engage in extramarital affairs, hire prostitutes, or send photos of their genitalia, we remained glued to the screen when such news flashes across the computer or t.v. Former frontrunner Cain is now reconsidering whether to continue his push for the Republican party nomination after a set of damaging accusations of harassment and infidelity were revealed. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/30/us/politics/herman-cain-may-quit-after-affair-and-harassment-accusations.html.
This summer, Rep. Anthony Weiner resigned his office after finally admitting he had sent photographs of his genitals to a number of women and he has been laying low since. On the contrary, Eliot Spitzer scored a spot as a political commentator for CNN in the aftermath of his resignation from the governorship of NY — after it was revealed that he had hired the services of prostitutes illegally.
In 1998, President Clinton was impeached (though not removed), when the House found him guilty of lying under oath about an affair he had with his intern.
Does questionably moral private behavior impinge on one’s ability to conduct his or her professional office? Can one cheat on one’s wife without necessarily “cheating” his constituents?
What do Americans think? In other words, what is the real impact of private scandal on voter preferences for candidates? In the minds of Americans, does character count?
Scholars have only begun to wrap their brains around the first question. For instance, political scientists Maule and Goidel conducted an experiment to determine what variables influence reactions to a variety of political scandals (Maule and Goidel 2003). Interestingly, the sex of the officeholder had a role in determining individual reactions to scandal, though the type of scandal and individual acceptance of gender stereotypes did as well.
But what if you’re the unfortunate politician who’s been accused of scandalous wrongdoing? When accused of a scandal, what is the most effective political strategy an official can take? Deny? Confirm? Sigal et al. (1988) experimentally tested atttitudes toward fictitious candidates who denied or apologized for either sexual or financial misconduct. Their findings indicated that individuals were more likely to vote for the candidates who denied misconduct rather than apologized for it.
At the end of the day at the voting booth, we’ll all need to answer the normative question about whether character should count. Regardless, the next year promises to be a scandal-filled and glorious presidential race.
- Political Affairs Now An Open Book – NPR (npr.org)
- Cain Can’t Top NY Pols in Sexcapade Contest (newyork.ibtimes.com)
- Herman Cain Is ‘Reassessing’ His White House Bid After New Sex Scandal (businessinsider.com)
- Political Sign of Apocalypse: The Non-Denial Denial (swampland.time.com)
- Herman Cain Affair Allegations Are Irrelevant (usnews.com)
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