Quinnipiac: Voters Judge Abuse of Power More Harshly Than Adultery

Tuesday, 08 Apr 2014 08:34 AM

By Melanie Batley

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American voters judge politicians more harshly for abusing their power than for getting involved in an extra-marital affair, a new Quinnipiac poll has found.

"Voters clearly see a difference between personal and official scandals. Committing adultery is far less damaging to a politician than abusing their office," Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said in a statement.

In the survey conducted March 26-31, voters were presented with a fictitious congressman, James Miller, whose "main concern in office is developing policies to help middle-class, working families." Miller was described as 53, married, with two children, and no party affiliation was given.

Of the 1,578 registered voters surveyed, 83 percent said they had a very favorable or somewhat favorable opinion of him, and 65 percent say they definitely or probably would vote for his re-election. The poll had a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points.

One group of voters was subsequently told that Miller was "unfaithful to his wife with another woman." Among those voters, just 36 percent had a very favorable or somewhat favorable opinion of him, while 58 percent said they had a somewhat unfavorable or very unfavorable view.

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In total, 39 percent said they would definitely or probably vote for him, compared to 49 percent who said they would definitely or probably not vote for him.

Meanwhile, a second group of voters were told "Miller created a new, well-paid position on his staff in order to hire an unqualified family member as a favor." In that group, 22 percent had a very or somewhat favorable view, compared to 75 percent who were somewhat or very favorable.

Just 24 percent said they would definitely or probably vote for him, compared to 67 percent who said they definitely or probably would not.

"Whether it was adultery or abuse of power, our scandal-ridden politician was unable to secure a majority for re-election, reflecting an underlying reluctance on the part of American voters to support transgressors," Malloy added.

Voters had even less tolerance for hypocrisy. In a scenario in which Miller committed adultery but was known for "promoting moral values," overall favorability dropped to 25 percent, with 68 percent unfavorable. Just 28 percent said they would likely vote for him.

In a scenario in which Miller had hired a family member but voters were told his platform included "cleaning up government," favorability dropped to 24 percent, and just 21 percent said they definitely or probably would vote for him.

The survey, however, also found that voters believe adultery is a greater indicator of personal integrity compared to an abuse of office. In the survey, 57 percent said the unfaithful Miller lacked personal integrity, compared to 49 percent who said so about the power-abusing scenario, the poll found.

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