Perhaps most importantly, very few Republicans (14%) or Democrats (11%) are willing to say that Swallow did nothing unethical. While some voters haven’t quite made up their minds yet, most voters (whether Republican or Democrat) don’t like what they’re hearing so far.
This analysis was performed by Zach Smith, a student research fellow at BYU’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy (like us on Facebook), in collaboration with CSED faculty. The writing is mostly his. Inquiries about this research should come to Quin Monson, Chris Karpowitz, or Kelly Patterson.
In a democratic society, political officials normally care what the public thinks about them. This becomes even more important when a scandal envelops them. However, scandals can have different effects depending on the type of scandal, how the scandal gets covered, and on the dispositions the public brings to the scandal.
So far in this affair, it appears that the newly-elected Attorney General is without any defenders of his own. And consistent with other trends in public opinion and scandals, there is a partisan dimension. These conclusions come from data collected by Key Research in cooperation with BYU’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy (CSED) during January 2013. The sample for the survey was taken from the file of registered voters and has 500 respondents.
Because attitudes for those who have some information about a potential scandal are better able to offer an opinion about the accusations than those who are unaware, respondents were first asked, “Have you heard, read or seen anything recently about accusations involving Attorney General John Swallow?” Sixty-six percent of the voters in the survey responded affirmatively. This relatively high proportion should not be too surprising because the sample is of registered voters with a higher probability of voting and voters typically pay more attention to politics. As likely voters, they are also the kind of people to which politicians are typically more likely to pay attention.
Only those who reported having heard something about the accusations were then asked if they felt the Attorney General had done something illegal, unethical, or neither. While only 17% said that he did something illegal, 41% said he did something unethical, but not illegal. Only 14% of this group who knew something about the scandal said he did not do anything unethical. The remaining 28% said they were unsure about the ethics or legality of the situation.
A closer look shows that party identification readily changes how voters perceive the accusations. Democrats readily accuse him, while Republicans are more hesitant. About 29% of Democrats say Swallow did something illegal while only 13% of Republicans agree. However, both Democrats (47%) and Republicans (40%) agree that he did something unethical. Even more interesting is that a third of Republicans remain unsure about the accusations. Perhaps most importantly, very few Republicans (14%) or Democrats (11%) are willing to say that Swallow did nothing unethical. While some voters haven’t quite made up their minds yet, most voters (whether Republican or Democrat) don’t like what they’re hearing so far.
The 39% of all respondents who said that he acted either illegally or unethically (58% of the 66%) were then asked if they felt the Attorney General should remain in office or resign. Nearly a majority (49%) of these respondents felt he should resign, with 34% saying he should remain and 18% being unsure. Again, this 49% only represents respondents who have both heard something about the accusations and who also believe he did something illegal or unethical. It only makes up less than 20% of the total sample. However, the series of questions allows us to see how the remaining voters are likely to respond to the accusations as they continue to be reported in the coming days and weeks. As voters hear about the accusations a clear majority believe Swallow at least did something unethical (and relatively few defend him), and of those who see wrongdoing, a large plurality believe Swallow should resign.
When broken down by party identification, Democrats again come out swinging while Republicans seem to hold back. Of Democrats, 69% say he should resign, while only 41% of Republicans agree. Of Republicans, 40% feel he should remain in office, while only 21% of Democrats agree. And once again, a larger proportion of Republicans (19%) are unsure what to do with him, while fewer Democrats (10%) feel the same.
This scandal follows a well-worn pattern documented by political scientists. First, it is more important to look at the opinions of individuals who claim to have heard at least something about the scandal. Second, partisan dispositions play an important role in helping sort out what people think about the scandal. And finally, these differences between the partisans translate into different conclusions about what the official should do. Among those who perceive at least unethical behavior, a clear plurality think he should resign, but Democrats are much more likely to say so.
Click here to download a topline report that includes the full survey questionnaire, frequencies for each question, and a detailed methodological report (including details about the sampling as well as response rates and cooperation rates).
Question Wording for items in this blog post:
Q15. Have you heard, read or seen anything recently about accusations involving Attorney General John Swallow?
(66%) 1 Yes
(34%) 2 No [if no, skip to Q16]
[if Q15=YES ask…]
Q15A. As you may know, the media have reported accusations that Attorney General John Swallow might have received money in an attempt to help somebody influence Senator Harry Reid. Based on what you have heard or read, which of the following statements best describes your view of what John Swallow might have done.
(17%) 1 John Swallow did something illegal.
(41%) 2 John Swallow did nothing illegal, but did something unethical.
(14%) 3 John Swallow did nothing unethical.
(28%) 4 DON’T KNOW (DO NOT READ)
[if Q15A= 1 or 2 ask…]
Q15B. Do you think that Attorney General John Swallow should remain in office or resign?
(34%) 1 Remain in office
(49%) 2 Resign
(18%) 3 DON’T KNOW (DO NOT READ)