Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Trying To Rank Scandals, Phase One

(UPDATE below)
Like I asked earlier trying to differentiate between BridgeGate and Benghazi, we need to come up with a ranking system so we can firmly establish the proper level of outrage to shocking (and non-shocking) revelations.

I saw on The Atlantic per Derek Thompson that some people are trying to track such things already, albeit in the form of current news and public interest:

A Pew poll from this week found the public paid little attention to Christie's BridgeGate — less than the polar vortex (which was, after all, truly nation-wide) or even the Washington debate over unemployment benefits and the jobless rate. Meanwhile, national opinion of the governor has barely budged...

Now it may be that this is still the early stages of BridgeGate - with the lack of solid details and the fact this is more a regional scandal than a national one - so the severity of public interest may change - especially if more salacious and criminal misdeeds are established, and after all it took months for WaterGate, ABSCAM, Iran-Contra, and the Lewinsky Affair to gel.

And personally, I'm kinda glad most Americans were more focused on the economy and on jobs/unemployment benefits than a scandal.  Good for you, America!

Meanwhile, Thompson digs deeper into what political scientists were trying to gauge with scandals: just how damaging are they to a political career, and how damaging are they to someone's Presidential aspirations?

...Scandals come in many flavors, and different scandals tend to enact different penalties. Corruption scandals (i.e.: bribery or obstruction of justice) cost incumbents about eight percentage points, on average. Next, financial and sex scandals shave off five points. And political scandals? They don’t appear to matter at allaccording to a study last year by political scientist Scott Basinger.
Although sex scandals clearly make for the easiest headlines, a 2013 study found that the most durable scandals are substantive rather than salacious. Political science has already shown that half of American legislators have been implicated, somehow, in scandals; that politicians involved in scandals are viewed less favorably; that they attract higher-quality opponents and lose votes in the following election.
But researchers David Doherty, Conor M. Dowling, and Michael G. Miller wanted to know what sort of scandals "stick." So they administered two online surveys, creating fake representatives undergoing a sex scandal or a tax scandal. Some participants would read that the scandals (e.g. sleeping with a staffer, or income-tax evasion) were recent. Others would read they happened decades ago. The results were fairly striking: Not only did people care much more about the tax scandal overall, but also they discounted the sex scandal dramatically when it happened years in the past. As for income-tax evasion, it didn't seem to matter if the news was new or old: It hurt favorability about the same.

Either this is an after-affect of the Clinton impeachment effort where a majority of Americans ended up not caring about the President's affair with a college intern - as long as it didn't affect national security or forced people to break the law, most sided with Clinton and didn't want him impeached over it - or else a lot of Americans were always blase about sex scandals (mind, Grover Cleveland in the 1880s admitted to an out-of-wedlock child... and still won the White House) despite the moral outrage of prominent media figures/other politicians.

Meanwhile, financial scandals such as tax evasion seem to hit harder.  It is that people view any financial misdeeds as a serious breach of public trust (especially since politicians are involved with taxpayers' money)?  It'd be nice if the scientists gauged other money-related scandals such as bribery, abuse of funds, hiring friends for no-show jobs, etc.

Because while the bridge-closing-for-retaliation plotline has some juiciness to it, Christie's facing additional charges about misusing Sandy relief funds... hmmm...

So, if anything, when we get around to measuring which scandals are worse than others, we can be certain to put sex scandals low and financial scandals high.  Got it.

Update: I've made this one of my projects for the year (the other project being GET THE DAMN VOTE OUT), so here's a link to Phase Two where I start drawing up a chart...

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