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The institutionalization of politics by scandal and the effect on the American view of government

James Thomas Smith, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Given that scandal is not new to American democracy, it is puzzling that the implications of political scandal on the American political scene have not been investigated more thoroughly. The commentary that exists on the subject usually follows one of two approaches. In the first, a particular scandal is reviewed and its immediate effect on political outcomes is investigated. In the second, independent works focus on the various institutions that investigate or perpetuate political scandal. ^ The purpose of this research is to establish how political scandal and politics by scandal became institutionalized political processes. That is, “politics by scandal” has become another avenue by which public officials can achieve their goals—along with bargaining, going public, compromising, logrolling, and the filibuster—and is now an established part of the political process. In the course of developing this argument, the study presents a clear definition of political scandal, as well as a theoretical framework that contributes to a viable way of thinking about political scandal with predictive capability. ^ The thesis incorporates a multi-faceted approach to the subject. First, it investigates scandal descriptions and trends over time and determines how political scandals have changed over the last 30 years. Second, it explains the causes of political scandal over the same period by using scandal as a dependent variable in time series analysis. In this part of the research, the “institutionalized process” theory is presented, using elections, divided government, party competition, a changing media, and institutional reforms as independent variables. Third, the thesis investigates the consequences of political scandal on the behaviors and attitudes of the electorate. In this behaviorist approach, scandal is used as an independent variable to address how attitudes and behaviors are affected as a result of scandal. ^

Subject Area

American Studies|Political Science, General

Recommended Citation

Smith, James Thomas, "The institutionalization of politics by scandal and the effect on the American view of government" (2002). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3055291.