Mass Response to the Lewinsky Scandal: Motivated Reasoning or BayesianUpdating?



This study attempts to account for the vastly different trajectories taken by mass andelite opinion in the wake of the Lewinsky affair. Data from a panel study, collected before andjust after the scandal broke, suggest that Clinton's prior popularity indelibly colored massresponse to the scandal, thereby constraining citizens' reactions. As would be predicted bytheories of “motivated reasoning,” the influence of various considerations (like thecredibility and importance of the allegations) on reactions to the scandal was conditional uponprior 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 theLewinsky scandal in particular and citizen reaction to presidential behavior more generally, aswell as on the cognitive mechanisms that facilitate motivated reasoning in candidate evaluation.