Elections as a way to address unethical behavior “throw the bums out” Kirby (1985) – Elections work in some cases Criminal convictions -CriminaL indictments -FORMAL DISCIPLINE BY CONGRESS
Welch and Hibbing (study we read) 116 corruption cases for 1982-1990 Looked at: morals charges, bribery, abuse of Congressional prerogatives (travel, franking privilege), other crimes, campaign finance violations and conflicts of interest not rising to the level of bribery FINDINGS?
Welch and Hibbing (study we read) U.S. House 1982-1990 Every type of charge had significant and negative effect on the vote. MORAL CHARGES had the strongest effect, visible for members of both parties (in 1980s lead to 22% decline in vote for Ds, 15% for Rs). Corruption charges had biggest impact in GENERAL elections (versus primaries) – Why? One-fourth of corruption charged incumbents lost in general, versus 3% of non charged incumbents. Why did 75% of corruption charged folks WIN??
Trading theory • Many scandal-tainted members are electorally secure – can withstand even a 20% loss of votes • Trading: Voters balance corruption charges against other factors that matter for the vote: • E.g. party ID, candidates’ policy positions. • Elections = imperfect mechanism to punish unethical candidates; other stuff matters • Examples: • Rundquist study • House bank scandal (Thompson, Basinger discussed)
House bank scandal 1991 • An audit of the House bank, where members could deposit their money like a private bank, showed that 134 members had overdrafted their accounts • Names were released and how much they overdrafted • Dozens of “strategic” retirements, losses in primary elections • More overdrafts – fewer votes for incumbent. Member who overdrafted a lot was 18% less likely to be reelected than a member with zero overdrafts.
How did voters respond? • Voter ignorance and error with regard to who overdrafted • Psychological processes of sympathy and identification with incumbents (especially where they share party ID) – guessed wrong • Rationalizing bad behavior • Trading theory: other considerations (party ID, challenger spending etc.), and psychological processes like rationalization, allowed many incumbents who bounced checks to survive
More on trading/other voter considerations • West and Stewart – voters balance candidate qualities of • 1) Honesty/integrity on the one hand and • 2) Leadership/competence on the other • The two dimensions are distinct for many voters • Example: RI Mayor Buddy Cianci, Clinton (Sonner and Wilcox – 2/3 of public disliked C as a person but over 60 percent approved of his policies). • Compartmentalization….
Basinger study (Scandals and Congressional Elections Post-Watergate) • :Looked at House, 1973-2010 • Scandals put into 4 categories: • Financial (Thompson’s improper financial gain) • Corruption (bribery, conspiracy, obstruction of justice, influence peddling) • Sex scandals • Political scandals (election fraud, campaign finance violations like inadequate disclosure of donations) • Other (residual) – trespassing, speeding, assault, illegal drug use, public drunkenness. • (40% in first category, 21% in second, 17% third).
Basinger findings? • Impact on general election outcomes: • 1. Scandals reduce incumbent’s expected vote by about 4%. • 2. Corruption and sex scandals have the largest effect, then financial scandals, and political scandals have no effect. • 3. Other factors matter: quality of challenger • 4. Do scandals affect candidate choice? Yes – • 9 percent of scandal free incumbents retired, versus 19 percent of scandal-tainted ones. Also the scandal-tainted ones lose primaries at 13 times as great a rate as scandal-free members.
Basinger findings? • Bottom line SURVIVAL when tainted by scandal: • 73 percent of scandal-tainted members survived to general (v. 91 percent of scandal-free ones), • 81 percent of scandal tainted ones won reelection (v. 96 percent of scandal –free ones) • So in total, considering voluntary exit (resignations or retirements), loss in primaries, and loss in generals: Over 40 percent of scandal tainted incumbents don’t survive their election. “Electorate is not totally unresponsive.”
Which citizens care more or less about corruption and ethics scandals? • Common wisdom – educated & wealthy voters care more about clean government, corruption • BUT (Redlawsk study): low income voters DO care more than high income voters about CERTAIN TYPES of corruption: • Corruption as “favoritism”/deal making, • Whereas high income voters care more about corruption as LAWBREAKING (bribery, other violations of criminal law)