Sex and corruption in congress: How the nature of the scandal shapes backlash from voters

Gregory W. Saxton, Tiffany D. Barnes

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The vast majority of political scandals reported in the news center around male politicians. Yet, when women are involved, the nature of the scandals and coverage are sometimes different. Whereas powerful men are rarely, if ever, accused of "sleeping their way to the top, " powerful women frequently are. What happens when women politicians are involved in a scandal that blurs the lines between corruption-i.e., abuse of public authority for private gain-and a simple moral transgression? We designed an original survey experiment to assess participants' responses to a Congresswoman having an extramarital affair with someone who has the power to advance her career. We find that participants are less likely to suggest they will punish Congresswomen at the polls for involvement in a simple "morality" scandal than for the scandal that blurred the line between a sex and corruption scandal. Moreover, we observe that political conservatives are more likely than liberals to punish the hypothetical Congresswoman, indicating that some voters' negative reactions to women politicians are motivated by concerns about sexual morality, and not necessarily by a perceived abuse of power for professional gain.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationScandal and Corruption in Congress
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9781801171199
StatePublished - Nov 7 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Gregory W. Saxton and Tiffany D. Barnes. All rights reserved.


  • Corruption
  • Electoral punishment
  • Sex scandals
  • Survey experiment
  • Voter backlash
  • Women in politics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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