Escaping Collective Responsibility in Fluid Party Systems: Evidence from South Korea.

With Joan Cho.

How does the public evaluate politicians’ reactions to crises that damage their party’s image? Using an experimental survey design and the 2016 South Korean political scandal, we explore which strategies allow politicians to avoid electoral accountability for corruption in their party. The scandal prompted some politicians from the president’s party to participate in protests calling for her impeachment, make statements criticizing her leadership, or join a new splinter party. We find that all of these strategies both increase electoral support and decrease perceptions of corruption. However, leaving the party is the least successful at increasing electability and politicians are more likely to gain votes if instead they take a clear position against corrupt politicians. Our findings have implications for weakly institutionalized party systems, where politicians, faced with a party brand crisis, have incentives to switch parties to escape electoral accountability, as opposed to reforming the party from within.

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