The Washington Post

For politicians, corruption is worse than cheating. But hypocrisy is worse than both of them.

Vance McAllister, this one's for you.

South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford. (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain, File)

Quinnipiac University did a fascinating -- and remarkably well-timed -- poll in which they created a fake Congressman (James Miller a 53 year old married man with 2 kids) and then asked voters how they would react to various piece of information about Miller. Those tidbits ranged from his carrying on an extramarital affair to his hiring of a family member unqualified for a job.  And, by a somewhat wide margin, the hiring of the family member was seen a a far more egregious -- and fireable -- offense than cheating.

Just one in four (24 percent) of voters say they would "definitely" or "probably" vote for Miller if  he "created a new, well-paid position on his staff in order to hire an unqualified family member as a favor.”    Contrast that with the four in ten (39 percent) people who say the would "definitely" or "probably" votes for Miller if he was "unfaithful to his wife with another woman."

That finding should provide some solace for McAllister -- although the woman with whom he was caught canoodling was at the time on his Congressional staff. (She is no longer employed by McAllister.) But, wait, there's more!

If you add a layer of hypocrisy to the transgressions committed by the fictitious Congressman Miller, his electoral situation gets even more dire. If voters are told Miller is touting his commitment to "cleaning up government"  prior to being informed that he hired a family member to a well-paying position, barely one in five say they would definitely or probably vote to reelect him.  If Rep. Miller touted himself as a "promoting moral values" before his extramarital affair is exposed, just 28 percent of voters say they would definitely or probably vote for him.

Ruh, roh Congressman McAllister. Remember this?

The conclusion from the Q poll? A politician can absolutely survive an extramarital affair -- particularly if he or she didn't spend a lot of time when running for office touting how important family was to him/her.  You are certainly better off having a non-hypocritical affair than you are engaging in a bit of nepotism.  But, misrepresent yourself to voters -- either as a family man or a squeaky clean on the ethics side -- and your time in elected office will likely end involuntarily.

RELATED: Scandal-plagued pols -- Where are they now? 

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.



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Sean Sullivan · April 8, 2014

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