How Political Scandals Affect the Electorate. Tracing the Eroding and Spillover Effects of Scandals with a Panel Study

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Political scandals are highly relevant for political decision-making and democratic processes more generally. While most prior research employed experimental and cross-sectional survey studies, we tested the effects of a political scandal in the context of the 2017 Austrian Parliamentary Elections using panel data (N = 559, both waves). Importantly, we used a unique data set collected before and just after a major scandal broke in the final election phase. Drawing on a motivated reasoning perspective, attribution theory, and the inclusion/exclusion model, our results revealed a scandal-eroding effect particularly damaging a candidate’s own base of supporters and leaving followers in disappointment. The findings also showed a negative scandal-spillover effect for candidate supporters high in scandal knowledge decreasing political trust toward other politicians. Importantly, the results revealed that negative candidate evaluations are not a necessary precondition for negative spillover effects on political trust more generally.

von Sikorski, C., Heiss, R., & Matthes, J. (2020). How political scandals affect the electorate. Tracing the eroding and spillover effects of scandals with a panel study. Political Psychology, 41(3), 549-568.

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