The psychological literature highlights the dominance of morality in forming social judgments. However, in the political field, recent electoral victories by politicians involved in immoral behavior have shown that immorality does not end careers. Here, we demonstrate a strategy to explain scandalous politicians’ electoral success. In three experiments using both fictional and real politicians in various political settings, we show the effectiveness of a strategy emphasizing different image dimensions in mitigating the negative effects of a scandal. We find that scandal-hit candidates can effectively improve their image by shifting voters’ focus to any image dimension undamaged by scandal, including competence, warmth (studies 1–2), and even morality in undamaged moral foundations (studies 2–3), demonstrating that voters rely on a multi-dimensional model of moral image in appraising politicians. This suggests that politicians who morally transgress can repair their image and avoid accountability using positive messages—as long as they do not scratch the moral itch.
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- Image repair
- Immoral behavior