Admit it: You love a juicy scandal. We claim to be high-minded and policy-oriented, but our noses are buried in the accounts of the latest political calamity—and we read those stories before anything else.
The Hillary Clinton e-mail controversy is just the latest entrée in a decades-long, calorie-rich menu provided by the former first lady and her husband. But will it make a difference in 2016?
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. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the damage will be long-lasting. In this respect, presidential campaigns can be very different than those for lower levels.
At those lower levels of politics—House and Senate races, for example—there is considerable evidence that a scandal can wreak havoc and even defeat normally favored incumbents. A 2013 study in Social Science Quarterly, by Rodrigo Praino and colleagues, looks at races involving incumbents who are being investigated by the U.S. House Ethics Committee. The consequences were quite severe in the 88 cases that occurred between 1972 and 2006: