A Study on Scandals

With more than half of the 112th Congress still to go, already five members have resigned.  Four of those were due to very public sex scandals: Rep. Anthony Wiener, Rep. David Wu, Rep. Chris Lee, and Sen. John Ensign.  Scandals such as these receive heavy media coverage, further hurting the already low opinion the American public has of Congress as a whole.  However perhaps worse in the public eye than the resignations are the members of Congress who elect to remain in office following major scandals.  In 2010 Rep. Charlie Rangel was found guilty by members of the House Ethics Committee on eleven charges of violating a variety of House rules in a well publicized scandal.  This begs the question, what affects the decision of members of Congress on whether or not to resign following a scandal?  I plan to examine this question by looking at a variety of factors that might influence the decision and testing for statistical links between these factors and both the likelihood that a member of Congress will become involved in a scandal and if the member decides to resign of remain in office.  I will first have to compile a list of Congressional scandals from a point in time during which the other data I need is available.  The factors I plan to look at are the district or state the members represent (by state, region, and population density), the members’ party identification, the percentage of time they vote with and against their party, the amount of time the members have served in Congress, and the safety of the members’ seats determined by the margin of victory during their past elections.  I suspect that the safety of a member’s seat will be the biggest determination of how they are likely to act following a scandal becoming public.  Members who won by narrow margins are probably more likely to resign based on the chance that their support will decrease, while members who are very secure in their seats can probably survive their scandal with their seat intact.  So far most previous research I have found on scandals and elections has focused on how scandals affect elections.  I want to know how election results affect the course of action members of Congress take after a scandal becomes public.  This information could be of use to the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct and the Senate Select Committee on Ethics.

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