a1 Loyola University, Chicago
a2 Yale University
a3 University of Illinois, Springfield
Previous analysis finds that people respond differently to “financial” (e.g., tax evasion) and “moral” (e.g., sexual misconduct) political scandals. However, experimental and observational studies tend to reach different conclusions about which type of scandal induces a stronger negative reaction from the public. We use an experiment embedded in a national survey to examine the possibility that these divergent findings can, in part, be explained by a failure to consider the effects of abuses of power. Consistent with previous experimental work, we find that people respond more negatively to financial scandals than to moral scandals when they do not involve abuses of power. However, abuses of power substantially affect responses to both types of scandals. We also find that moral and financial scandals affect personal and job evaluations of a politician differently. These findings support our contention that to understand public responses to scandal, it is crucial to consider the relationship between the scandalous behavior and the official's formal responsibilities.
David Doherty is an assistant professor of political science at Loyola University Chicago. His current research focuses on public perceptions and evaluations of political processes and political psychology. He can be reached at email@example.com
Conor M. Dowling is a postdoctoral associate in the Institution for Social & Policy Studies and Center for the Study of American Politics at Yale University. His current research focuses on elite and mass political behavior. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael G. Miller is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Illinois, Springfield. His current research focuses on campaign reform as well as mass and elite political behavior. He can be reached at email@example.com
Support for this research was provided by Yale University's Center for the Study of American Politics and Institution for Social & Policy Studies. Previous versions of this article were presented at the 2010 Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association (Chicago, IL), Cornell University's Department of Government, and Yale University's Institution for Social & Policy Studies. We thank participants in those forums and the anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions. Of course, any errors are our own.