Joint work with PhD Candidate Bence Hamrak.
Political scandals are damaging to the reputation of politicians who in turn use various communication strategies to escape the wrath of voters. In this study we focus on two common strategies: apologies and denial and explore an implicit trade-off in their use. On the one hand, denials are likely to convince voters that accusations are false, but those still believing them will think of the politician as dishonest. On the other hand, apologies can serve as safeguards to the politicians’ honesty at the expense of doing aw ay with the lingering doubts about culpability. We propose that decisions about communication hinges on two factors: the severity of the accusations and the probability of decisive evidence surfacing. Using a game-theoretical model we characterise the behaviour of both politicians and voters. First, we show that politicians will apologise only when (1) accusations are mild and (2) decisive evidence is likely to resurface. Second, we show that voter support increases when politicians deny accusations, but apologies are ex-post optimal when decisive evidence comes to light. Empirical results from a large-scale survey experiment supports these conclusions.
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