U.S. examines politicians’ financial, sexual failings
Lauren Markoe, Religion News Service
June 27, 2011

U.S. examines politicians’ financial, sexual failings

U.S. examines politicians’ financial, sexual failings
Lauren Markoe, Religion News Service
June 27, 2011


Americans are tougher on politicians for their financial misdeeds than their

sexual ones, but men are more willing than women to tolerate sexual misbehavior

in their elected officials.

The findings, released June 22 in a detailed survey by the Public Religion Research

Institute, show that Americans across religious groups consider it worse for a

politician to cheat on taxes or take bribes than to commit adultery or send

sexually explicit messages

to someone who’s not their spouse.

“There’s a dramatic difference when people are evaluating public officials’

financial versus sexual misbehavior,” said Daniel Cox, PRRI’s research

director. “A significant number of folks think they can separate public

officials’ personal and public lives,” and tend to think

of sexual misbehavior as personal and therefore private.

More than nine in 10 Americans say it’s an “extremely” or “very serious” moral

problem for a public official to take a bribe, and more than eight in 10 say

the same for a politician who cheats on taxes.

But less than seven in 10 Americans say it’s a serious moral problem for a

public official to have sex with a prostitute.

The poll was conducted in the wake of several high-profile cases of politicians

making headlines for their sexual behavior, including U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner,

D-N.Y., who resigned after he lied about sexually explicit texts he sent to

women he met online.

The poll also showed that Americans resent politicians lying about sexual

behavior more than the behavior itself. While three in four (77 percent) of

those polled consider lying to cover up an immoral sexual act a serious moral

problem, only two-thirds believe that a politician who has sex with a

prostitute had committed a serious moral transgression.

“This is what we’ve been hearing about Anthony Weiner,” Cox said. “He may not

have done anything illegal but he went out of his way to conceal it, and people

are saying that this is what got him into trouble. This is rated more serious

than sexual misbehavior.”

There are no significant differences, however, in Americans’ views of virtual

and actual sexual misconduct. Roughly two-thirds of those polled said it was a

“serious moral problem” for a politician to send a sexually explicit message to

someone other than a spouse or to have sex with a prostitute.

White evangelicals, however, are more likely than other religious groups to

consider immoral personal behavior a disqualification for public office:

64 percent of evangelicals said a politician who commits an immoral act in

private life cannot behave ethically in public life, compared to 43 percent of

white mainline Protestants, 49 percent of

Catholics and 26 percent of the religiously unaffiliated.

Significant gender differences emerged from the poll on views of politicians’

sexual behavior. Sixty-three percent of women say a politician who has sex with

a prostitute should resign, compared to 46 percent of men. And 64 percent of

women said that a male politician who cheats on his wife should resign,

compared to 50 percent of men.

Women were somewhat less willing, however, to condemn a female politician who

cheats on her husband, with 56 percent of women calling for her resignation,

compared to 51 percent of men.

Other findings from the poll include:

  • Republicans

    (71 percent) are more likely than Democrats (53 percent) to say a politician

    who has sex with a prostitute should resign. Republicans and Democrats are in

    closer agreement on whether a politician should resign for financial


  • Americans

    are split — 44 to 44 percent — as to whether politicians who misbehave in their

    personal lives can behave ethically in their public lives. The remainder say

    “it depends” or are unsure.

  • More

    than six in 10 Americans say public officials should be held to a higher moral

    standard than people in other professions.

  • Nearly

    two-thirds of respondents say the moral behavior of politicians is about the

    same today as in the past, with 28 percent deeming it worse and 6 percent

    considering it better.

  • By

    a margin of 54 to 33 percent, younger Americans (ages 18 to 34) are more likely

    than those over age 65 to believe that a politician can behave honorably in office

    despite a personal moral failing.

  • The

    poll, conducted by PRRI in partnership with Religion News Service, is based on

    telephone interviews with 1,006 U.S.

    adults between June 16 and 19, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3

    percentage points.