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Can an “October surprise” still influence voters?
In the polarized political landscape of America, can an October Surprise still have an impact on voters?
This week, two hotly-contested senate races in Georgia and Pennsylvania were the subject of shocking reports, only four weeks before election day. In Georgia, an article came out by the Daily Beast that Republican candidate, Herschel Walker, paid for a former girlfriend’s abortion. Walker has run on an anti-abortion platform. In Pennsylvania, a report by Jezebel accused Republican candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz of leading a research team that conducted research that resulted in the death of more than 300 dogs.
But in the current political climate where people are so divided based on political affiliation, do these claims actually influence voters?
“The empirical work on scandals is mixed. What matters is the type of scandal, whether it receives sufficient media coverage, how in line the scandal is with the beliefs about the candidate, how relevant it is to the image of the politician, and the timing right before an election” said Gadarian.
“So, that’s not to say that scandals can never undermine voters’ choices close to an election. Even in a polarized electorate, there are a lot of independent voters and partisan voters who have to make the decision to actually turn out,” said Gadarian. “But we shouldn’t overstate the effect that scandals can have on voters because there are still a large number of people who don’t pay attention to politics.”
“For the Walker case in Georgia, just because national media is covering it, it’s less likely to matter unless it is covered by local media and framed as relevant to policy and not just to his character,” said Gadarian.
“That said, Walker is likely to underperform rather than a more traditional Republican candidate because of the scandals, but also because he’s inexperienced as a candidate. What we might see is another pathway by which the scandal matters indirectly – donors and the national party might take their resources and put it in other races where they are more sure that the candidate has a stronger shot,” said Gadarian.