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Political hypocrisy: The effect of political scandals on candidate evaluations

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Abstract

Although political scandals receive unprecedented attention in the contemporary media, the knowledge of political scientists regarding the consequences of such scandals remains limited. On the basis of two nationally representative survey experiments, we investigate whether the impact of scandals depends on the traits of the politicians involved. We find substantial evidence that politicians are particularly punished for political-ideological hypocrisy, while there is less evidence that gender stereotypes matter. We also show that voters evaluate scandals in the personal lives of politicians in a highly partisan manner – other-party voters punish a politician substantially harsher than same-party voters. Interestingly, voters show no gender bias in their candidate evaluations.

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Notes

  1. See Thompson (2000, Chapter 1) for an elaborate definition.

  2. See Blach-Ørsten (2011) and van Dalen and Skovsgaard (2011) for a useful typology.

  3. Barabas and Jerit (2010) recently found that a number of survey experiments have low external validity when compared with benchmarks derived from natural experiments. As already pointed out, however, the scandals are difficult to study with observational data.

  4. We conducted robustness tests to check that the multiple treatments did not affect the results by examining whether the results hold when only looking at each individual’s first treatment assignment. The multiple treatments did not seem to affect the results greatly besides increasing the power of the experiment. The tests will be reported in the footnotes.

  5. We conducted randomization tests for each of the six treatments. In each of the randomization tests, a logit model was applied to predict treatment status. Independent variables were age, gender, political interest, education and children in the household and party affiliation (we also tried to exclude party affiliation with similar results). None of the six models performed better than a null model at the α 0.05 level (the lowest P-value was 0.11).

  6. We also asked the respondents to evaluate politicians on their worthiness of running for re-election as an alternative dependent variable. This variable has the potential advantage that it does not ask about a change but an absolute evaluation. The two sets of evaluations, however, correlated very closely (in all but one of the six scenarios, the correlation was above 0.6). Moreover, the results from the analysis were almost identical with the two measures (only one substantive important difference was found: As for the average effect of treatment, the difference between males and females on the absence due to child care scenario is not significant with the alternative dependent variable, whereas it cleared the 0.05 threshold with the trustworthiness question, see Table 3). For the sake of avoiding redundancy, we only present the results from the trustworthiness question.

  7. In 2011, 10 times more Danish men than women were convicted for drunk driving (Danish Statistics, 2011).

  8. As a robustness test, we considered the possibility that the fact that each individual receives three treatments might affect the results. One might argue that it is possible for the respondent to figure out the treatment when presented with multiple scenarios – some involving one party (or gender) and some involving the other party (or gender). We tested for the influence of multiple scenarios by only considering the results for the first scenario each individual is presented with (though our n drops to one-third of the original analysis). When Table 3 was repeated with the first scenarios only, almost identical difference sizes were generally found (the number of stars of course fall because of the lower sample size). Only for absence because of child care did we find a notable difference in the conclusion. When all cases were considered, men were punished slightly more than women. When only cases where this scenario was presented first were considered, there was no difference in means (and the difference-in-difference between the sub-sample with the first scenario only and the remaining cases were significant).

  9. One explanation for the mixed results might be that in the experimental setting, we present all respondents with the same information and ask them to evaluate it directly. We thus effectively hold information constant for all respondents. Therefore, we should be careful about transferring the result to a real life expectation with respect to the effect of political interest.

  10. Note that about 400 cases are lost, as many voters are undecided, thus giving the ‘votes left-wing’ several missing cases. We re-estimated Table 4 with a dummy for undecided and other voters included in order to prevent the loss of cases (along with an interaction between the undecided and the treatment). This did not change any of the main conclusions. For the sake of simplicity in the presentation of the results, we do not include the dummy (and the related interaction) in Table 4.

  11. We also tested interactions between political interest and the treatments. This might especially be important for the political hypocrisy analysis as it is possible that the politically interested (and thus potentially more informed) are better able to see ideological inconsistency. In one case, we did get a significant interaction in the expected direction – the politically interested punish Social Democrats more harshly for using private hospitals. Including the interaction in Table 4, however, does not in any of the cases substantially change the coefficients for the interactions currently examined (for instance, in model 3 where the interaction between political interest and the treatment was significant, the coefficient for the interaction between partisanship and treatment changes insignificantly from 1.43 to 1.45).

  12. We conducted robustness tests for Table 4 to examine the influence of multiple scenarios as described in footnote 3. Potentially, the presentation of multiple scenarios in Table 4 could affect the heterogeneity of the effect. If the treatment becomes obvious for the respondents, they may respond in a more or less partisan manner and may avoid or stress gender stereotypes. To test the robustness of the results to this potential factor, we re-estimated the six models in Table 4 with only the first scenario presented to each respondent, the results were almost identical to Table 4. There was a slight tendency for more heterogeneous effects for the party experiments, indicating that voters are most partisan when the party treatment is better concealed. Furthermore, the interaction for the absence because of child care experiment was significant at the 0.05 level (as opposed to Table 4). This could imply that men punish men relatively harder than women do (but only slightly so).

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the anonymous reviewers and the participants at the ECPR Joint Sessions in St Gallen 2011 and the NOPSA conference same year for their insightful and constructive comments. We also thank Ugebrevet A4 for funding the survey experiments.

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Correspondence to Kasper M Hansen.

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Bhatti, Y., Hansen, K. & Leth Olsen, A. Political hypocrisy: The effect of political scandals on candidate evaluations. Acta Polit 48, 408–428 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1057/ap.2013.6

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