Public Rates Politicians' Sexual, Financial Lapses on Different Moral Scales

Article excerpt

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.

Across different religious groups, U.S. adults 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, according to a survey released June 22 by the Public Religion Research Institute.

"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 ten Americans say it's an "extremely" or "very serious" moral problem for a public official to take a bribe, and more than eight in ten say the same for a politician who cheats on taxes. But fewer than seven in ten 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 Rep. Anthony Weiner (D., N.Y.), who resigned after he admitted lying about sexually explicit texts he sent to women he met on the Internet.

The survey 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."

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There are no significant differences, however, in Americans' views of virtual and actual sexual misconduct. …