Sexual predators in contest for public office: how the American electorate responds to news of allegations of candidates committing sexual assault and harassment

Stephanie Stark, Sofia Collignon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Candidate characteristics have an important impact on voter choice, and scandals are found to negatively impact a political campaign. Yet the literature, with its focus on scandals such as financial and (consensual) affairs, has failed to look into how allegations of sexual assault and harassment may impact electability. This study analyzes the effect that allegations of sexual assault or harassment have on the electoral success of American politicians. Using an original survey experiment we find that, on average, American citizens are less likely to support a candidate accused of sexual assault or sexual harassment. However, not all voters do so to the same magnitude. We find that Democrats are significantly less likely to support a candidate that faces such allegations. Republicans do not strongly penalize candidates facing allegations of sexual assault or harassment, especially if the candidate is identified as a Republican. We analyze open-ended survey responses to offer an explanation for such variation: a propensity to disbelieve women who speak out about sexual assault and harassment explains variations in why some voters may not change their opinion of a candidate based on an allegation.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPolitical Studies Review
Early online date3 Apr 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 3 Apr 2021

Cite this