Poll: Politicians' Private Conduct Important in Vote Choice

A strong majority of likely voters believe that politicians' private conduct is an important consideration when deciding who to vote for, according to a new poll commissioned by The Hill. A majority also believe that the media behaves unethically.

The poll results come as Herman Cain, one of the front-runners in the Republican presidential nomination contest, deals with past allegations of sexual harassment. Cain has accused the media of unethical behavior in its reporting on the matter.

When asked “how important is politicians' private conduct to assessing suitability for office?” 85 percent of respondents said private conduct is important. Forty-seven percent answered “very important,” and 38 percent answered “somewhat important.”

Women were more likely than men to find private conduct an important consideration in vote choice. Fifty-four percent of women, compared to 39 percent of men, answered “very important.”

There was an even larger disparity between low and high income voters. Lower income voters were more likely than high income voters to find private conduct important. Only 29 percent of those making more than $100,000 per year found private conduct important, but 61 percent of those earning between $20,000 and $40,000 per year found private conduct important.

The poll also asked several questions about the media. When asked if news organizations are generally ethical or unethical, a majority, 55 percent, said they were “not very ethical” (41 percent) or “not at all ethical” (14 percent).

A majority, 67 percent, of likely voters also believe that presidential politics has become “dirtier” than in the past generation.

Likely voters were split on whether news organizations are “too friendly toward politicians” (31 percent), “too hostile toward politicians” (21 percent), or “generally report on politicians in an appropriate way” (28 percent).

About half, 48 percent, of likely voters believe that news organizations generally favor Democrats, while 23 percent believe that they generally favor Republicans.

Two women received a settlement after accusing Cain of sexual harassment when they worked at the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, when Cain was president and CEO. Cain has called those claims “false and baseless” and criticized the media for reporting on them.

The Cain campaign has emailed a copy of the “code of ethics” from the Society of Professional Journalists to a reporter at Politico, the website that broke the sexual harassment story, according to Politico reporter Maggie Haberman on “Meet the Press” Sunday.

The results of The Hill poll suggest why likely voters might be ambivalent about the Cain sexual harassment allegations. On the one hand, if the allegations are true, they would factor into the decision-making process when it is time to vote. On the other hand, likely voters do not have much faith in the sources of the allegations – the news media.

The poll of 1,000 likely voters was conducted on Nov. 3 by Pulse Opinion Research. The margin of error is +/- three percentage points.