Seen One, Seen ‘Em All? Do Reports About Law Violations of a Single Politician Impair the Perceived Trustworthiness of Politicians in General and of the Political System?


  • Anna Halmburger
  • Anna Baumert
  • Tobias Rothmund


By bringing together a sophisticated conceptualization of political trustworthiness (integrated model of trust) with theorizing from information processing (trait inferences, inclusion-exclusion model), our research aimed at investigating the impact of a politician’s unlawful behavior on political trust. In four experimental studies, we investigated how laypersons draw inferences from media reports about a politician’s law violation to the trustworthiness of (a) that politician, (b) politicians in general, and (c) the political system as a whole. Participants who read a bogus newspaper report about a violation of law (child pornography or financial fraud) ascribed lower integrity, benevolence, and competence to the respective politician compared to those in a control condition (Study 1, 3, and 4). The perceived trustworthiness of politicians in general and the political system was also found to be decreased in one study (Study 2), which did not include items asking for the trustworthiness of the law-violating politician. By contrast, two studies including such items revealed only indirect effects through the perceived trustworthiness of the politician in question (Study 3 and 4). Our results suggest that law violations negatively affect the responsible politicians. In line with the inclusion-exclusion model, the impact from the wrongdoing of one politician to all politicians or the political system seems to be highly influenced by boundary conditions.