The effects of sexual misconduct allegations on elected officials: historical and contemporary perspectives
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A nationwide conversation on sexual misconduct began following revelations of widespread sexual harassment, sexual assault, and sexual abuse of power in professional and personal spheres throughout the United States. The movement for accountability of perpetrators of sexual misconduct led to the resignations of several members of Congress and government officials. However, there is still debate over whether sexual misconduct should disqualify individuals for positions of power, like elected office. This paper explores past and present public perceptions of elected officials accused of sexual misconduct. Case studies of 26 individuals accused of sexual misconduct seeking Congressional office from 1976 to 2018 are conducted using historical news archives, online news sources, television broadcast news archives, and election data. An original survey experiment is used to gauge reactions to three different types of sexual misconduct committed by a fictional candidate for congressional office. Sexism is explored as a mitigating factor for allegations of sexual misconduct in candidate evaluations. The findings call for increased discussion and debate on the role sexual misconduct allegations should play when evaluating a candidate’s qualifications and suitability for public office.