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Politicians become guilty by association, just by being members of a scandalised party.

Even when politicians are not personally involved in a political scandal, they can be indirectly affected through their affiliation with the implicated party, finds new research from BI Norwegian Business School. One way to avoid this ‘guilt-by-association’ is to distance oneself by switching parties.

Benny Geys, Professor of Economics at BI Norwegian Business School, and colleagues, investigated the extent to which scandals affect, and trigger responses from, politicians in the implicated party that are not personally involved in the scandal. This research focuses on the wider ramifications of political scandals beyond the main culprits.

The researchers studied the political shock-waves created by the 1992 Italian ‘Clean Hands’ scandal – a massive corruption scandal whereby public procurement contracts were allocated in exchange for bribes to the two main ruling parties in Italy at the time. Hundreds of politicians, entrepreneurs, and public officials were charged with corruption. A central finding from the study was that the scandal did not just affect the implicated politicians: it also strongly affected politicians who were members of the involved parties without being directly involved in the scandal.

Politicians affiliated to the involved parties were less likely to stand for re-election, and less likely to be re-elected when they did. Yet, they were also more likely to have switched to another party when they did stand for re-election. Such switching to another party proved electorally beneficial. It considerably improves politicians’ chances of re-election compared to not switching. This demonstrated that local politicians were re-optimising their behaviour by creating distance between themselves and the scandalised party.

Professor Benny Geys says,

“Large-scale scandals trigger negative labelling of the involved party or parties by the media, leading to a negative societal perception of this party. By tarnishing the party brand in this way, political scandals have implications beyond the politicians directly involved. Politicians become guilty by association, just by being members of a scandalised party.

“The aftermath of the ‘Clean Hands’ scandal shows that leaving the scandalised party was a good strategy in terms of a politician’s future career. Party switching protected their upward career mobility compared to those remaining in the party. In contrast, staying with the party was linked to reduced upward career mobility.”

These findings were published in Journal of Public Economics.

For more information, a copy of the research paper, or to speak with Prof. Geys, please contact Kyle Grizzell from BlueSky PR on 07904706136 or

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