Study: scandals rarely end political careers

Politics -

A new study finds most scandal-tainted incumbent House lawmakers win reelection.

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Political scientist Scott Basinger researched the scandals involving House lawmakers from 1973 through 2010. Of the 237 members involved, 63% were Democrats, the rest Republicans. Democrats held a majority of the House during the period. Of the scandals, 37% involved money, 20% sex, 20% politics.

Financial scandals were the most common (around 37%). Political, sexual and corruption scandals made up most of the remainder--at less than 20% each. A tiny percentage went to scandals involving illegal drugs, trespassing and drunk driving.

The study found 91% of scandal-free incumbents make it to the general election, while 73% of those involved in scandals do. It showed that not all scandals have the same cost--corruption scandals cost incumbents around 8% of the vote; financial and sex scandals cost 5%; but political scandals don't seem to have any effect. Once in the general election 81% of politicians with recent scandals win.

"A scandal-tainted incumbent defending his or her seat does not necessarily fare better than an untainted open-seat candidate, a finding that provides a justification for stronger ethics rules." Scott Basinger, assistant professor of political science at University of Houston

Basinger suggests political scandals involving campaign finance violations may be less damaging because such abuses may be easier to spin to the public.

Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford won the GOP nomination for an open congressional seat after a scandal involving an extramarital affair.

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