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Are Financial or Moral Scandals Worse? It Depends.

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 October 2011

David Doherty
Loyola University, Chicago
Conor M. Dowling
Yale University
Michael G. Miller
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.

Copyright © American Political Science Association 2011

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