FOR AMERICAN VOTERS, MORALITY MATTERS - New Psycho PoliticsNew Psycho Politics


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Yesterday Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner met the fate of virtually every politician linked to a sex scandal.  American voters may tolerate bad behavior when it comes out of Hollywood, but when it comes out of politics, it’s just not acceptable.  In the end, New York voters felt that sexting and hiring prostitutes outweighed any contributions that Weiner and Spitzer might bring to office.

In making their plans to enter the mayoral and comptroller races, Weiner and Spitzer were probably encouraged when former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford won a seat in Congress last spring.  Apparently voters thought Sanford’s potential contributions were more important than his past cheating on his wife and abandoning his duties as governor to visit his girlfriend in Argentina.  Some years before Sanford, Louisiana voters forgave David Vitter, and the American people seem to have forgiven Bill Clinton.

But those three cases are pretty much the only ones where voters overlooked what most people would consider immoral behavior.  Since the time that Gary Hart took Donna Rice on the yacht Monkey Business (1987), almost 50 national politicians have been involved in sex scandals and lost elections or been forced to resign.  In the U.S., a violation of moral standards is something voters are just not willing to tolerate in their elected representatives.

Perhaps Sanford’s victory emboldened the New York candidates.  Spitzer had more or less stayed out of the spotlight for five years, but entered the race soon after the South Carolina election.  Weiner had mounted a comeback campaign about a year after being forced from office.  That campaign, which initially looked like it could be successful, imploded when more salacious tweets became known.  Spitzer’s campaign was less controversial, but in the end, voters could not reconcile giving control of New York’s money to such a flagrant lawbreaker.

Politicians who want to earn the public’s trust need to remember that in the U.S., their private lives are public.  Unless they’re able to live up to the morally righteous image they use to get elected, they should probably think about another career.

Photo Source:  Fox News

Robert Smither, PhD
Author of ten books on psychology, politics, and finance, Bob’s areas of expertise include leadership, organizational politics, and the psychology of political sex scandals.


  1. Harvey Levitt says:

    There is another aspect of this result as well. It may be that voters in New York simply pay a great deal more attention to facts rather versus faith than those in Louisiana and/or South Carolina.

    • Robert Smither, PhD says:

      Good point. Also, some people have said that the people in Sanford’s district dislike Democrats more than they dislike bad behavior.

  2. dina says:

    You cite that the careers of nearly 50 politicians have been negatively affected by sex scandals or moral behavior. I’d be interested to see how many have managed to maintain their careers and paths to power after 1987 up against that number – how many of the other offenders were able to get away with it?

    • Robert Smither, PhD says:

      I think it’s likely that, in the past 25 years, some politicians have been able to hide their behavior and avoid a scandal. But other than Sanford, Vitter, and Clinton (who never ran for office again), those who got caught lost their career in politics.

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