Scandals Will Hurt Trump, If People Know About Them

One argument that has been made in favor of impeachment hearings is that hearings would focus attention on Il Trumpe’s misdoings, and that would hurt him–a view I favor. Well, there are data to support that view (boldface mine):

Through all this, Trump can seem like Teflon: impervious to scandal. Democrats already dislike him, Republican partisans remain loyal, and Americans’ minds are hard to change. This dynamic can trouble those who believe public opinion should respond to new information. If scandalous news no longer affects voters’ opinions of politicians, politicians will be less likely to care if they are involved in a scandal…

Researching the effects of scandals is not easy. We define scandals as charges of misbehavior that get sustained attention from the media, making it less effective to randomly offer respondents a single scandal story, compare their responses with a control group, and predict their responses to a real-world scandal. Media consumption, particularly exposure to real-world media content, is nearly impossible to measure well. Further, on any given day of the Trump administration, there is too much notable news to be able to judge with any certainty whether a particular scandal did or did not change public opinion. Our approach allowed us to isolate the effects of scandal coverage over one week….

We used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to enroll 1,187 Americans in our study, paying them to use our “news portal” (a news aggregator website we designed with frequently updated headlines from Google News) as their primary news source for a week, with bonus payments for high-volume users. We also collected data on users’ partisanship, education, age and other demographic variables. We randomly assigned respondents to see different sets of stories and surveyed them before and afterward about their opinions on politics and the news. While we could not be sure about respondents’ other news use, we measured their use of the portal and have no reason to believe that their use of other news or interpersonal discussion varied systematically across the randomly assigned conditions.

…Taking advantage of that scandal-filled news cycle, we randomly assigned some of our subjects to see almost no Trump-Russia stories that week, while others randomly received an unaltered amount of stories about the scandal. This design let us isolate the effects of Trump-Russia news on opinions over one week.

We found that only Republicans were significantly influenced by the scandal coverage or lack thereof. Those who saw comparatively more Trump-Russia stories rated his job performance 7.6 percent lower than Republicans who did not read those stories, and rated their positive emotions toward him (such as pride, enthusiasm, and hope) 10.9 percent lower than those kept in the dark. Democrats had non-statistically significant reactions. Republicans did not change their attitudes toward the media, and our results did not change based on whether they clicked on the stories.

In other words, simply changing the balance of scandal headlines that they saw was enough to change Republicans’ attitudes toward Trump. Exposure to sustained coverage of a Trump scandal had detectable, negative effects strong enough to overcome Republicans’ partisanship.

…it is simply not true that Trump is not hurt by his scandals or that Republicans never change their opinion of him. Trump pays a price when a scandal attracts intense media attention — particularly among those who are supposed to be most loyal to him.

Though resilient, Trump is not Teflon.

As always, it’s a single study, so caveats apply. Still, while this might not DESTROY! Trump, impeachment hearings could ding him–and that’s enough in battleground states. The claim that a Republican-controlled Senate will never remove him–and I think that’s correct–which will allow Trump to claim ‘he won’, it doesn’t matter: he will claim victory if Democrats don’t impeach him. But we can tarnish him, and we should.

Aside: “our results did not change based on whether they clicked on the stories” should tell you how important headlines are.

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1 Response to Scandals Will Hurt Trump, If People Know About Them

  1. Ron Zoscak says:

    “As always, it’s a single study, so caveats apply.”
    The fact that it was done on Mechanical Turk is an even bigger caveat. I kind of doubt that results from a group of people with nothing better to do than take surveys for pennies will translate to the general population. I should know, I used to be one.

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