Sex, Drugs and Politics: Public takes tough line on scandals

November 06, 2013, 8:50 PM GMT+0

Americans are more forgiving of politicians who dabble in soft drugs or have had affairs, but on the whole take a harsh line against most transgressions by politicians.

Last week Toronto mayor Rob Ford faced unprecedented pressure to resign after a video of him smoking crack cocaine was found by the police who have so far kept it under wraps. A second video, this time showing him in a drunken rage threatening to kill someone, surfaced and was broadcast on television across Canada. Americans, too, are no stranger to political scandal. Out of the last three presidents, all three have been in the news for bad past behavior. Barack Obama admitted to smoking marijuana and taking cocaine, George W. Bush was prosecuted for a DUI in 1972, and Bill Clinton's marital infidelity and playboy behavior became the talk of the country after his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky was revealed.

According to the latest YouGov research, Americans are much more willing to overlook soft drug use and sex scandals, than financial corruption and hard drugs. The most commonly accepted activity is smoking marijuana, which 37% of Americans are prepared to forgive when casting their ballot. Even the second most tolerated issue - having an affair - is accepted by only 18% of Americans.

The five most detrimental behaviors for someone seeking elected office include hiring an illegal alien, posting improper pictures online, smoking crack cocaine, not paying taxes, and accepting monetary gifts while in office. Only 10% or less of the American public would vote for people who had engaged in any of these behaviors. Financial corruption and tax evasion are the least forgiven behaviors that a politician can partake in, with only 3% of Americans saying that they'd vote for a politician that had committed these sins - even if they shared the same political views.

When Americans were asked if these transgressions happened "in college", or more than 20 years ago, people were more than twice as likely to overlook them, and vote for the candidate, than if the offenses had occurred more recently. Only smoking marijuana did not see a similar shift, though 55% of Americans say that they would vote for a politician who smoked marijuana a long time ago.

For each wrongdoing, Democrats were notably more willing to overlook legal and social transgressions. Democratic voters were always more likely to consider voting for the hypothetical drug or sex scandal-plagued candidate, with largest partisan divides concerning smoking pot (24% difference), and having an affair (15% difference). Differences were much smaller for illegal or corrupt financial behavior, posting inappropriate pictures, and smoking crack.

The ex-mayor of Washington D.C., Marion Barry, was caught smoking crack cocaine while still in office as part of a FBI sting. He was charged, served term, and was ultimately re-elected. When asked to comment, Mr. Barry said there were no similarities between his own situation and Mr. Ford's.

Full poll results can be found here.

Image: Getty.

Join YouGov today! Your views can shape the news...