British Journal of Political Science

Research Article

Scandal Fatigue? Scandal Elections and Satisfaction with Democracy in Western Europe, 1977–2007

Staffan Kumlin and Peter Esaiasson*


Elections involving a major scandal were unusual in the late 1970s, but today nearly half are so affected. Multilevel analyses of Eurobarometer data reveal that scandal elections once had negative net effects on satisfaction with democracy. However, as scandals have become more common, the negative effect has withered away. This ‘scandal fatigue’ process appears driven by changes in scandal material, rather than by changes in citizens’ reactions to a given type of material. Scandals involving several politicians and parties still really matter, but these have not become markedly more common. The possibility that the increasing incidence of scandals has created a more critical approach to scandal material is discussed. As scandals accumulate, citizens may become more prone to ponder the relevance of a story and the motives of the messenger.

(Online publication September 19 2011)


* Department of Political Science, University of Gothenburg and Institute for Social Research, Oslo (email: This research was supported by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond and Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research. Previous versions were presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Boston, 2008; at the Department of Political Science, University of Gothenburg; at the Institute for Social Research, Oslo; at the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study; and at the Department of Political Science, University of Oslo. The authors wish to thank Anders Sundell for excellent research assistance, and Bernt Aardal, Linda Berg, Johannes Bergh, Jonas Edlund, Henning Finseraas, Mikael Hjerm, Paul Gronke, Rune Karlsen, Ingemar Johansson-Sevä, Maria Oskarson, Maria Solevid, Jo Saglie, Marcus Samanni and Stefan Svallfors for useful comments.