Political Orientation and Moral Judgment of Sexual Misconduct


  • Laura Niemi
  • Matthew Stanley
  • Marko Kljajic
  • Zi You
  • John M. Doris


In a series of studies in the U.S. (total N participants = 4,828) using both news articles (Studies 1-2) and constructed scenarios (Studies 3-4), we investigated how judgments of responsibility, blame, causal contribution, and punishment for alleged perpetrators and victims of sexual misconduct are influenced by (1) the political orientation of media outlets, (2) participants’ political orientation, and (3) the alleged perpetrators’ political orientation. Results indicated that participants’ political orientation, and the interaction between participants’ and alleged perpetrators’ political orientation, predicted moral judgments. Conservative participants were generally more likely inculpate and punish alleged victims in all four studies. Both conservative and liberal participants judged politically-aligned alleged perpetrators more leniently than politically-opposed alleged perpetrators. This political ingroup effect was ubiquitous across all tests of the dependent measures for conservative participants; whereas it was muted and unreliable for liberal participants. The findings collectively demonstrate that moral judgments about sexual misconduct are politicized at multiple psychological levels, and in ways that asymmetrically affect victims.