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Mass Response to the Lewinsky Scandal: Motivated Reasoning or Bayesian Updating?

Mark Fischle
Political Psychology
Vol. 21, No. 1, Special Issue: Response Latency Measurement in Telephone Surveys (Mar., 2000), pp. 135-159
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3792068
Page Count: 25
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Mass Response to the Lewinsky Scandal: Motivated Reasoning or Bayesian Updating?
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Abstract

This study attempts to account for the vastly different trajectories taken by mass and elite opinion in the wake of the Lewinsky affair. Data from a panel study, collected before and just after the scandal broke, suggest that Clinton's prior popularity indelibly colored mass response to the scandal, thereby constraining citizens' reactions. As would be predicted by theories of "motivated reasoning," the influence of various considerations (like the credibility and importance of the allegations) on reactions to the scandal was conditional upon prior affect for the president. Such findings are difficult to accommodate within the more rational "Bayesian updating" perspective. These data shed light on mass response to the Lewinsky scandal in particular and citizen reaction to presidential behavior more generally, as well as on the cognitive mechanisms that facilitate motivated reasoning in candidate evaluation.

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