When it comes to Chris Christie's bizarre traffic scandal, there is a lot we don't know. We don't know what he knew, when he knew it, why he didn't know it, whom his administration was trying to punish, how many times they had created "traffic problems" before, or whether it will affect his presidential chances. (We don't even know if he's running!) All we know is that Americans seem to care about it much less than MSNBC's audience—for now.
A Pew poll from this week found the public paid little attention to Christie's Bridgegate—less than the polar vortex (which was, after all, truly nation-wide) or even the Washington debate over unemployment benefits and the jobless rate. Meanwhile, national opinion of the governor has barely budged.
But let's say the drip-drip doesn't stop and Christie's scandal takes a bigger bite out of his approval rating and national profile. Is this the sort of thing voters will still be preoccupied by in two years, when the Republican primaries get rolling?
Scandals come in many flavors, and different scandals tend to enact different penalties. Corruption scandals (i.e., bribery or obstruction of justice) cost incumbents about eight percentage points, on average. Next, financial and sex scandals shave off five points. But political scandals (like, say, jamming traffic on a bridge to punish a New Jersey political enemy)? They don’t appear to matter at all, according to a study last year by political scientist Scott Basinger.