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What surveys say about political scandals

What surveys say about political scandals

Political scandals seem to dominate the modern 24-hour news cycle. Each day Americans stare at their devices as newscasters outline misdeeds perpetrated by the latest disgraced bureaucrat or elected official. This routine has slowly eroded our trust in the government. According to a Gallup survey, 75 percent of Americans believe our political system suffers from widespread corruption.

However, this collective disgust for unethical politicking doesn't translate into action at the ballot box. In fact, most tarnished politicians only lose, on average, five percentage points around election time, reported The Washington Post. And, about 73 percent of tainted statesmen are able to rehab their image and make a serious run in the general election.

The numbers behind corruption
Political analysts argue that corruption isn't as widespread as most Americans think, reported The New York Times. The statistics bear this out. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the number of convictions of federal politicians has dropped by almost 25 percent since 1989. Still, we continue to question the ethics of our elected officials. Some media scholars attribute this to the nationalization of news. Networks can now cover every single instance of unethical political behavior, foreign and domestic.  

"The mayor of Toronto is an excellent example. Here's a mayor of a city in a foreign country, but his name and picture are plastered all over the American media," Darrell West, vice president of government studies at the Brookings Institution, said in an interview with the paper.

This coverage overload, he argues, has skewed our views on government. According to a Gallup survey, Americans believe members of Congress have "very low" ethical standards - lower than those of advertising professionals and car salesmen.

The damage done
While most Americans care about corruption and scandalous behavior in an abstract sense, few let it color their perception of specific individuals. Current Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was involved with two major scandals: the 2012 attacks on an American diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, and an email security breech that occurred during her stint as Secretary of State, the details of which were brought to light in March 2015. Despite receiving public blow back from each of these events, Clinton remains the Democratic front runner with a legitimate shot at the presidency.

According to FiveThirtyEight, Clinton recovered because the American public simply lost interest in both stories. Even at the height of the Benghazi scandal, only 53 percent of Americans were actually following the situation, reported Gallup. Amazingly, 45 percent of citizens also said the controversy surrounding the attack in Benghazi was worse than the Tea Pot Dome scandal, an ethics lapse former U.S. senator Thomas Walsh called "the most stupendous piece of thievery known to our annals, or perhaps to those of any other country."  

Turning scandal on its head
While most politicians try to avoid scandal at all cost, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump embraces it. Throughout the early stages of the 2016 campaign, Trump has made a number of questionable comments. Yet, his poll numbers remain steady, reported The Economist. A few of these comments have even given him polling boosts. According to Real Clear Politics, Trump has a 13-point lead on his closest conservative competitor, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. And, 51 percent of Republicans have a favorable view of Trump's image, reported Gallup.   


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