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Keywords:

  • information processing;
  • timing;
  • repetition;
  • decay rates;
  • saturation threshold;
  • scandal

Scholars and political consultants alike know that during a campaign even the hint of a scandal has the potential to distract from a candidate's policy messages—or even worse—can have dire consequences on Election Day. But does it matter whether the scandal breaks early as opposed to late in the campaign? And how do citizens respond when the scandal drags on for weeks? This study represents the first effort to shed light on these temporal dynamics. Results reveal that timing affects the immediate impact of scandal information, the rate at which those initial effects decay, and candidate evaluations offered at the campaign's conclusion. Additionally, I develop two competing hypotheses regarding how citizens may process scandal information when it is repeated throughout a campaign. Empirical tests suggest that voters eventually reach a saturation threshold after which additional repetition of scandal information has negligible effects on evaluations unless new details are a prominent feature of ongoing coverage, in which case repetition can extend the negative effects of scandal.