Summer of 2013 Chock-Full of Scandals

Snowden seen as most scandalous among headline-grabbers from Paula Deen to Anthony Weiner

Aug 27, 2013, 05:00 ET from Harris Interactive

NEW YORK, Aug. 27, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Scandals hit the news year round, but it always seems as though at least a few come our way during the summer. This summer has been no exception, with headlines regaling us all with news of everything from Paula Deen's dismissal from the Food Network in the wake of allegations of racism to Major League Baseball's internal battles against performance enhancing drugs to Anthony Weiner's, well... communication habits. But what's 2013's "Scandal of the Summer?"

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By a margin the size of the Moscow airport, the highest percentage of Americans (42%) identify Edward Snowden leaking details of U.S. mass surveillance programs to the press as the "Scandal of the Summer." At a distant second is Paula Deen being fired from the Food Network due to allegations of racism (16%), then performance enhancing drug revelations and related suspensions in Major League Baseball (12%) and revelations of additional sexting by Anthony Weiner (9%). An additional 14% of Americans say they believe something else qualifies for the title.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,045 U.S. adults surveyed online between August 16 and 20, 2013 by Harris Interactive. (Full results, including data tables, can be found here)

Under the lens 
Snowden also led the pack when Americans were asked how much they paid attention to certain scandals, with Paula Deen and MLB also receiving attention from the majority of Americans.

  • Seven in ten Americans say they have paid attention to the Snowden scandal (70%).
  • Just over half have paid attention to the Deen/Food Network story (53%) and the events within MLB (52%).
  • An additional four in ten have paid attention to the continuing saga of Anthony Weiner (41%).
  • Roughly two in ten have paid attention to reports of Amanda Bynes' erratic behavior (23%), Reese Witherspoon's arrest for disorderly conduct (20%) and reports that Simon Cowell conceived a child with his friend's wife (19%).

Cover to cover(age) 
Among those aware of each scandal, many Americans feel these news events received more media attention than they deserved. When asked how they felt about the amount of coverage each scandal received:

  • Majorities feel there has been too much coverage for the Paula Deen (61%) and Amanda Bynes (55%) scandals.
  • Roughly half indicate the same for the Simon Cowell (52%) and Reese Witherspoon (50%) stories.
  • Just over four in ten (42%) indicate the same for Weiner coverage, while nearly half (48%) feel there has been about the right amount of coverage for his story.

Majorities feel there has been about the right amount of coverage for the MLB (57%) and Snowden (54%) stories, while – despite almost constant media attention – over one-fourth are hungry for still more Snowden coverage, with 26% saying there has not been enough.

Opinions Page 
Response to these scandals can be contradictory, with Americans seemingly shifting their stances from one story to the next: 

  • For example, Americans seem to think celebrity scandals should stay out of the papers – except when they don't. Over three-fourths (77%) agree that Amanda Bynes' struggles in her personal life should not qualify as "news" – and yet the same percentage agrees that because Simon Cowell is a public figure, it's reasonable for him to expect that his personal life will attract media attention.
  • Similarly, Americans are a forgiving sort – except when they aren't. Six in ten Americans (60%) feel the Food Network was wrong to fire Paula Deen; on the other hand, the same percentage feel the MLB suspensions in response to performance enhancing drugs have not been severe enough.

Snowden's leaking scandal is particularly divisive; although nearly half of Americans (47%) agree that he was brave to expose the surveillance programs to the world, four in ten (39%) disagree and 14% are not at all sure. More specifically, one-fourth each agree and disagree strongly with this sentiment (24% and 25%, respectively).

So what do Americans agree on? Well, they certainly don't want Anthony Weiner in a leadership position. Seven in ten (70%) agree that based on his behavior in his personal life, they wouldn't trust him to lead their city.

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This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between August 16 and 20, 2013 among 2,045 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words "margin of error" as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of Harris Interactive.

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The Harris Poll® #56, August 27, 2013

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