Legislators like Michele Bachmann and Alan Grayson become nationally infamous for their provocative behavior, yet there is little scholarly attention to such infamy. This paper examines the predictors of congressional infamy, along with its electoral consequences. First, infamy is measured through the frequency with which internet users conduct searches of legislators’ names, paired with epithets attacking their intelligence or sanity. Then, ideological extremism and party leadership positions are shown to be the best statistical predictors. The electoral consequences of infamy follow: infamous legislators raise more money than their lower-profile colleagues, but their infamy also helps their challengers to raise money. In the case of House Republicans, there appears to be an additional and direct negative effect of infamy on vote shares. The fundraising effect is larger in Senate elections, but there is no evidence of direct electoral cost for infamous senatorial candidates.
From a new paper by political scientist Justin Buchler. Here is an ungated copy. To my knowledge, it is the first scholarly work in political science to include the phrase “batshit.” I also heartily endorse the use of Ozzy song titles in academic research.
If I told you that Buchler’s Google search method identified Michele Bachmann as the most “infamous” member of the House, you might say, “Duh.” But can you guess the most infamous senator? See Table 2.