It’s a central tenet of democracy: The electorate is a politician’s ultimate boss. If voters don’t like what their representatives are up to, they can, as the saying goes, throw the bums out.
But in recent weeks, as a wave of sexual harassment and assault allegations hits politicians in several statehouses and the U.S. Capitol, another force is proving to be as powerful as the electorate: peer pressure.
Two California assemblymen and three members of Congress have resigned in the last two weeks, all facing allegations of sexual misconduct. Each man initially held onto his office for days or weeks after the accusations surfaced. Their resignations came only when their political colleagues called on them to step down.
The degree of peer pressure varied in each case. Still, the resignations point to a major difference between public office and private-sector employment. In movie studios, television networks and some other corporate workplaces, executives have moved swiftly in recent weeks to fire men accused of misconduct. In politics, however, it takes more time for consequences to kick in. And that’s largely because of the collegial dynamics of a legislative body.