Hanania, Richard. 2015. “Does Apologizing Work? An Empirical Test of the Conventional Wisdom.” (h/t Emil)
Politicians and other public figures often apologize after making controversial statements. While it is assumed that they are wise to do so, this proposition has yet to be tested empirically. There are reasons to believe that apologizing makes public figures appear weak and risk averse, which may make them less attractive as people and lead members of the public to want to punish them. This paper presents the results of an experiment where respondents were given two versions of two real-life controversies involving comments made by public figures. Approximately half of the participants read a story that made it appear as if the person had apologized, while the rest were led to believe that the individual stood firm. In the first experiment, involving Rand Paul and his comments on the Civil Rights Act, hearing that he was apologetic did not change whether respondents were less likely to vote for him. When presented with two versions of the controversy surrounding Larry Summers and his comments about women scientists and engineers, however, liberals and females were much more likely to say that he definitely or probably should have faced negative consequences for his statement when presented with his apology. The effects on other groups were smaller or neutral. Overall, the evidence suggests that when a prominent figure apologizes for a controversial statement, the public is either unaffected or becomes more likely to desire that the individual be punished.
Basically there is no reason to apologize regardless of the situation.
While the scandal may wreck your reputation or not as the case may be, you might as well avoid the self-abasement. Since it’s not going to do you any good anyway.
Not to mention that apologizing when you did nothing wrong is the action of a contemptible worm.
Women and liberals – by nature – favor the strong horse.
The evidence presented here suggests that seeing a public figure apologize either increases the desire to punish him or her, or has no effect at all. If this is the case, we may wonder why politicians do in fact so often ask for forgiveness in the face of controversy. It is possible that politicians apologize in order to receive better coverage from the media or even make a story go away. Political punditry can apparently affect voters’ preferences. In one experiment, individuals judging performances in a presidential debate were influenced by the nature of commentary they watched after the fact, when compared to a control group not exposed to the opinions of pundits (Fridkin et al. 2007). Likewise, if an individual apologizes for a comment that the media finds offensive, future coverage of that individual may be better than it otherwise would be. Such an argument requires the assumption that while members of the public are hostile or indifferent to those who apologize, members of the media will provide better coverage of an individual who shows repentance. Yet there is no reason to assume that this is the case, especially since most of the media leans to the left (Groseclose 2011: Groseclose and Milyo 2005), and liberals in this study appear to be those most likely to want to punish individuals for apologizing.
Nor does it seem that apologizing buys sympathy from the media.
Take a cue from Donald Trump, who at least has this down pat. Go on the attack. Flip the script. Agree and amplify. Basically do anything but apologize, because apologizing signals weakness, and weakness invites further attack.