During a 2016 campaign stop in Iowa, then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t. lose any voters, okay?
Was he right? Or do some transgressions cross a line in the sand – points that, if crossed, cause voters to drop their support?
And if there are lines in the sand, do conservatives and liberals draw them in the same place? Does the strength of ideological identity affect where people draw the line?
These sociopolitical issues are highlighted in “Could Your Candidate Shoot Someone on 5th Avenue and Not Lose Votes?” Identifying “lines in the sand” in the transgressions of ingroup candidates,” a new study published in the Journal of Social and Political Psychology which explores how people make voting decisions when they learn that their favorite candidates have committed moral transgressions.
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago created a scale of 70 different transgressions, such as stealing $1,000 or committing tax evasion, that continually increased in severity. As part of the study, participants had to make a series of voting decisions where they decided whether to vote for a fictitious in-group candidate or an out-group candidate to be elected to the House of Representatives. . In each of those 70 voting trials, participants learned that their candidate in the group had committed a transgression, ranging from mild to very serious.
“By creating this multi-trial design, we were able to determine that people tended to abandon favorite candidates when they learned that the candidate was involved in acts of theft over $10,000 and acts in which a person innocent woman was physically injured and required extensive treatment,” said Kathryn Howard, a UIC psychology doctoral student and lead author of the report.
Significant ideological differences between Republicans and Democrats have also emerged.
Republicans were more likely than their political counterparts to maintain support for their candidate even after learning of fairly serious transgressions, such as “paying a witness to give false testimony in a criminal trial,” the report said. report.
Participants who identified strongly with their own personal ideology were also more likely to vote for transgressive candidates. On average, people had more than a 50% chance of voting for candidates who had committed crimes, such as smuggling drugs into the country for resale.
Howard noted that these trends likely affect which political candidates will be elected.
“Some election results may be the result of conservatives and liberals voting differently when they learn of candidate transgressions within the group,” she said.
Co-authors of the study are Daniel Cervone, professor of psychology at UIC, and Matt Motyl of civil policy.