POLITICIANS, SCANDALS, AND TRUST IN
Shaun Bowler and Jeffrey A. Karp
In this paper we examine the role that political scandals play in eroding regard for
government and political institutions in general. We know that scandals can lower
regard for individual politicians and government leaders. Yet, less is known about how
scandal inﬂuences attitudes toward institutions and the political process. It has been
widely assumed that such attitudes are inﬂuenced by factors that lie largely beyond the
control of individual politicians. Using data from the U.S. and the U.K. we show that
scandals involving legislators can have a negative inﬂuence on their constituent’s
attitudes toward institutions and the political process. One consequence of this ﬁnding
is that, instead of looking for scapegoats in Hollywood or among the failings of voters
themselves, politicians should ﬁrst get their own House in order.
Key words: scandal; discontent; political attitudes; Congress; British politics.
In this paper we examine the role that political scandals play in eroding
attitudes about government and political institutions in general. We know that
scandals lower regard for individual politicians and government leaders (see
e.g., Clarke et al., 1998; Lanoue and Headrick, 1994) and a series of recent
studies have shown electoral consequences in a variety of cases (e.g., Banducci
and Karp, 1994; Cowley, 2002; Farrell et al., 1998; Hetherington, 1999;
McAllister, 2000). We argue that the effect does not stop with popularity but
has wider consequences for the public’s view of politics and political institu-
tions. While a great deal of research has focused on the causes of high
Shaun Bowler, Department of Political Science, UC Riverside, Riverside, CA 92521
(firstname.lastname@example.org). Jeffrey A. Karp, Department of Political Science, 113 Holden Hall,
Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas 79409-1015 (email@example.com).
Political Behavior, Vol. 26, No. 3, September 2004 (
0190-9320/04/0900-0271/0 Ó 2004 Springer Science+Business Media, Inc.