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Sex scandals affect black candidates more than white politicians

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Sex scandals may cause more damage to black candidates than to their white counterparts. Two experiments conducted on national samples of white voters during the pre-primary period of the 2008 Presidential campaign revealed that sexual controversies among black candidates considerably damage positive perceptions among white voters. Both experiments placed Barack Obama and John Edwards in identical fictitious sexual controversies, and the researchers then measured how participants viewed each candidate. The respondents ultimately thought of Obama as more ideologically liberal than Edwards. Favorable judgments of Obama also dropped more substantially than those for Edwards. Political partisanship does not account for these findings; they stretch across the board. It seems that black candidates have an increased burden. They must attempt to avoid being associated with any potential negative images that might perpetuate an already skewed perception among white voters.

Citation: Berinsky, A. J., Hutchings, V. L., Mendelberg, T., Shaker, L., & Valentino, N. A. (2010). Sex and race: Are black candidate more likely to be disadvantaged by sex scandals? Political Behavior, 33(2), 179-202. doi:10.1007/s11109-010-9135-8



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