Quarterly Journal of Political Science > Vol 13 > Issue 3

Publicizing Scandal: Results from Five Field Experiments

Donald P. Green, Columbia University, USA, dpg2110@columbia.edu , Adam Zelizer, Columbia University, USA, apz2002@columbia.edu , David Kirby, Cato Institute, USA, davidrkirby@gmail.com
Suggested Citation
Donald P. Green, Adam Zelizer and David Kirby (2018), "Publicizing Scandal: Results from Five Field Experiments", Quarterly Journal of Political Science: Vol. 13: No. 3, pp 237-261. http://dx.doi.org/10.1561/100.00017094

Publication Date: 30 Aug 2018
© 2018 D. P. Green, A. Zelizer and D. Kirby
Political psychology,  Public opinion
Political scandalsnewspapersvoter persuasionfield experimentspublic opinion


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In this article:
Theoretical Model 
Experimental Design 


Despite decades of research on the persuasive effects of propaganda, little is known about opinion change in the wake of journalistic accounts of scandal involving public officials. To what extent and under what conditions do opinions change in the wake of information conveyed through newspapers? We conducted five experiments to assess how publicizing scandal changes evaluations of the specific public officials involved and attitudes towards government in general. In each study, subjects drawn from voter files and lists of party activists were mailed "special edition" investigative newspapers that reported on scandals involving public officials. Feature stories depicted some public officials as villains and others as heroes. Treatment and control groups were interviewed approximately two weeks later. We find significant effects on both voters and activists. The most striking pattern is the change in net favorability of the public officials implicated in the scandals. Evaluations of the villains deteriorated and evaluations of the heroes improved. Changes in evaluations are especially large when scandals implicated public officials with whom respondents had little prior familiarity.