Hillary Clinton is too well known and has been in the public spotlight for too long for a "garden-variety scandal" to torpedo her prospects as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. History also shows that presidential candidates can better weather scandals than incumbent senators and House members, according to Larry Sabato writing in Politico
"Scandal allegations are almost always an enormously time-consuming distraction and they make it virtually impossible to communicate a positive message during the feeding frenzy," writes Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia. Yet their ultimate impact on presidential candidates is markedly different than on politicians for lower office.
In a 2013 Social Science Quarterly
article cited by Sabato about the lingering effect of scandals on congressional races, Rodrigo Praino, Daniel Stockemer, and Vincent Moscardelli reported that incumbents mired in investigations lose an average of 12 percentage points in popularity. For those who manage to get re-elected, popularity levels can take until their following re-election cycle to bounce back to pre-scandal levels.
A second study by Scott Basinger in Political Research Quarterly
of post-Watergate era scandals found that even where no investigations were underway over 40 percent of lawmakers did not get past their scandals. They either retired or were defeated. Sabato cites the example of former California Democratic Rep. Gary Condit
who was defeated in his re-election bid. He also points to Tennessee Republican Rep. Scott DesJarlais
who won his 2014 primary but by just 38 votes managing to keep his seat in Congress.
At the presidential level, writes Sabato, "personal peccadilloes fade in importance" partly because of the larger issues at stake but also because "voters already have a clearly formed view" of a contender's "strengths and weaknesses."
"For no one is this more true than Hillary Clinton, who has been in the national spotlight, center stage, for 23 years."
The same probably applies to Jeb Bush. Voters may not know him as well as Clinton, but "they are very familiar with the family Bush," writes Sabato.
"Think of it this way: Both Clinton and Bush enter the campaign cycle with a million pixel image in the voters' minds. If you add a couple thousand new pixels to the picture, the overall image doesn't change much. A garden-variety scandal — and maybe an entire campaign full of them — won't transform the projection on the screen," writes Sabato.
If history is any guide, Hillary Clinton will not be hurt by this scandal. War and the economy matter more. "If you examine the 29 presidential elections since 1900 to look for the dominant deciding factor[s], you'll find that scandal has seldom played any conclusive role," Sabato writes.
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