During and after the recent presidential elections in France there has been an awful lot of talk about Emmanuel Macron's wife. But for me as a voter this seems nonsensical - a politician should be able to do whatever he pleases in his private life, as long as it doesn't interfere with his duties.

So how did we reach the point where the strictly personal lives of every single candidate are under such intense scrutiny? Or perhaps it's a purely Western problem that's not present in other democratic countries?

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    Interestingly, that's not a problem in France for the most part, I did hear some jokes and rumors but foreign media was at times more interested in this than the French media and public. And you can find many other recent examples of this in France. – Relaxed May 14 '17 at 14:46
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    Clickbait ain't gonna write itself. – user1530 May 14 '17 at 17:11
  • One of the most important German politicians said: "I love politics, wine, and women, but not necessarily in that order". (The quote isn't necessarily in the right order either). Didn't hurt him politically; it was what people expected of him. – gnasher729 May 14 '17 at 19:03

People in the west have probably been doing this since the ancient Greeks, at least. Or their politically opining philosophers did, anyway. It's hardly a new phenomenon. It's just a lot easier now, thanks to technology. Michel Foucault argues this behavior appears in ancient Greece in his three volume work The History of Sexuality, in fact. He argues from several texts that in ancient Greece (and Rome) one's personal life (indulgences in sex, alcohol, and drugs in particular) was seen as a reflection of the power they are able to execute over themselves, and that someone who could not even govern their own desires was deemed unqualified to govern other people.

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In addition to Zibadawa's excellent answer, there are other facets:

  1. People like gossip. And celebrities.

    There's a reason why celebrity gossip media is pretty much the most read (anecdotal but illuminating: US Weekly circulation is literally 4x that of daily New York Times). Top political candidates are celebrities in their own right (as far back as Rome and Greece, but especially since the days of JFK as far as USA is concerned); so any hint of a scandal is fanning attention.

    Please note that this is separate from the issues of governance and character - people paid as much (if not far more) attention to gossip about Princess Diana as Macron despite very low political influence she had.

  2. The previous reason is vastly amplified by media business.

    A scandal sells the media, generating revenues. Therefore, covering the scandal is often in media's interest, since that's what people crave to hear/gossip about. Or as someone noted in a comment "Clickbait ain't gonna write itself".

  3. Many people (I heard estimates of at least 20% but can't find the cite at the moment) vote for the character of the candidate rather than ideological platform.

    In other words, they don't have a strong ideological opinion (the reasons don't matter) and would rather vote for a candidate who'd "do the right thing".

    For such people, private moral failures are a signal that the candidate would be apt to NOT do "the right thing".

  4. Especially in the multi-round elections (such as France, or US primaries), the goal is frequently to choose a candidate in the earlier election who's the strongest opponent of the candidate one dislikes for later election.

    Candidates with private scandals are seen as more vulnerable (this is called "vetting" a candidate).

  5. Some private behavior simply triggers emotional or logical rejection of many people.

    If someone was cheated on; they probably simply flat out don't want to see a cheater succeed. People frequently react emotionally. This facet is mostly my speculation based on anecdotal impressions, I don't have any evidence this has mass effect.

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