Abstract

To what extent do political scandals impact a president's legitimacy and ability to govern?

This paper seeks to identify the extent to which political scandals impact a president's legitimacy and ability to govern. Focusing on recent scandals, this paper examines the Watergate, Iran-Contra, Whitewater, and Iraq & WMDs controversies. Using a combination of qualitative and quantitative data, this paper examines a president's efficacy prior to and after political scandal. The same method is applied to each case, and the results are then compared to identify patterns across the administrations in question. First, the degree of the scandal is assessed through qualitative analysis in conjunction with the public approval ratings of the respective president before and after the incident. Next, David Mayhew's dataset "Major White House legislative proposals during first two years of presidential terms, 1949-2006" is used to compare a president's legislative success prior to and after political scandal. It's hypothesized that following a scandal, a president will lose the trust of the people and a great deal of leverage in Congress, resulting in a diminished ability to govern due to their weakened authority. If this is not the case and scandals have little to no impact on presidential authority, it may be indicative of a lack of accountability in the office. This issue is particularly salient in a representative democracy, a system of government that relies on trust and accountability.

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