Politicians, like others caught in embarrassing situations, often attempt to explain their actions in such a way as to mitigate the negative effects. Whether politicians involved in scandal are able to maintain their political careers depends, at least in part, on how voters respond to the public explanations that these politicians provide. Previous work that has examined responses to the accounts provided by errant politicians (e.g., those who have made unpopular roll call votes or those who have been accused of inappropriate behavior) has studied the effects of hypothetical accounts provided by fictitious politicians. The authors of the present article examined responses to the accounts provided by actual politicians who were charged with unethical behavior. Their findings suggest that politicians who made reference to moral and ethical principles in their explanations for their behavior or who focused on the benefits to be gained by their actions tended to be evaluated more positively than politicians who denied that they had committed a questionable act. The authors also examined the effects of partisanship and political expertise on respondents’ evaluations of politicians accused of wrongdoing.
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