Oftentimes amid a scandal or issue the public or other politicians will call for an office holder to resign. It seems strange to me to try to shame an individual into stepping down if they truly are terrible, and to my understanding it is rare for anyone to follow through on it. Is it effective at all, having any consequences?

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    It seems strange to me to try to shame an individual into stepping down if they truly are terrible Why do you think this? Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 18:57
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    @AzorAhai, I believe the apparency of strangeness stems from the reasoning: if they are truly terrible, they will have no shame and will not resign merely to protect a sense of decency. As Gramatik points out, this is flawed.
    – Wildcard
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 20:01
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    Question: are you talking about elected officials being asked to resign or appointees being asked to resign when the person asking them to resign could simply fire them? There's certainly a lot of overlap between the scenarios, but there could be key differences that would make for interesting answers!
    – bvoyelr
    Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 19:12
  • @Wildcard yes that is exactly what I had in mind, the answers and comments have been very helpful. Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 21:12
  • @bvoyelr I had elected officials in mind, but answers that apply to appointed officials as well would be a good contribution that answers the question. I was thinking more of the public action of call to resign, rather than, say, a private request to resign--you are right that there is overlap Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 21:13

3 Answers 3

  1. It separates the officeholder who is calling for the resignation from the one being asked to resign.
  2. It separates the party from the officeholder being asked to resign.
  3. It pressures the one being asked to resign for the good of the party.
  4. It communicates to potential donors that the behavior is unacceptable and that they shouldn't support the person being asked to resign.

There are any number of cases where calling for a resignation results in a resignation:

  1. Al Franken, Democratic Senator from Minnesota.
  2. Chris Lee, Republican Representative from New York.
  3. Anthony Weiner, Democratic Representative from New York.
  4. Richard Nixon, Republican president.

And others.

Now it may be that the real problem is that they would be expelled from Congress. But the public calls for resignation make it clear that they lack support. This is especially effective when the person calling for the resignation is of the same party as the person being asked to resign. For example, it was Republican Senator Barry Goldwater who convinced Nixon that he didn't have enough support in the Senate to survive an impeachment trial.

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    5. It sends a signal to other politicians as to what behavior is acceptable and what isn't. In earlier times, admirals might be shot for "failing to do their utmost", which Voltaire in Candide satirized as "in this country, it is good to kill an admiral from time to time, in order to encourage the others" (Dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres). Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 7:12
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    I wonder if it's fair to say that the calling for these resignations were necessarily the cause of the resignations. It could be that the individuals would have resigned anyway. I can't imagine Weiner sticking around even if no one publicly suggested that he resign. And on the other hand, you have many calls for resignation which are unheeded. I'm not saying you're wrong, but just wondering if there's a way to validate the effectiveness of calls for resignation.
    – Planky
    Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 13:42
  • I would suggest that Nixon resigned to avoid impeachment rather than out of any public outcry. They public had been after him for two years by the time he resigned. He only resigned after he learned there were enough votes in the house to impeach (the senate was overwelmingly against him already).
    – hszmv
    Commented Jul 9, 2018 at 20:04

I believe this question is based on a flawed premise, as it is my experience that its is fairly common for office-holders to step down amid a scandal. Though presumably while the public is the original source of the pressure, it is likely the scandal-embroiled politician's colleagues that are the effective force pushing them to step down.

Stepping down may also be a preemptive action to save face for both the individual and party if they expect that an ethics probe into their actions would see them tossed out of office anyways - or in the case of a president, an impeachment vote.

Below are the first two scandal-embroiled politicians who stepped down that came to mind, followed by 3 others I found with a quick google search

Al Franken, US Senate, MN

Anthony Weiner, US House, NY

Eric Greitens, Governer, MO

Blake Farenthold, US House, TX

Stan Rosenberg, MA Senate

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    "fairly common for office-holders to step down amid a scandal" - this heavily depends on the country. Even within Western culture, there are huge differences. In Western Europe, a public official getting caught by a reporter while he was driving to a private event with his service car is enough to make him resign. In Eastern Europe, being sentenced to prison for a serious felony and large protests demanding his resignation still don't make him to even consider resigning. I would guess third world countries might fare even worse.
    – vsz
    Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 6:36
  • Stepping down also depends on office. For example, in my home country of the Netherlands, a member of parliament, alexander pechtold, got bribed with a penthouse but has so far refused to give up his seat.
    – Gloweye
    Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 7:42
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    @vsz I guess that puts Spain into eastern Europe, then. In Spain we have even a joke to remind our politicians about this: "Dimitir (to resign) is not a russian name"
    – Rekesoft
    Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 8:37
  • The UK isn't noted for swift resignations but in January 2018 the Minister of State (a senior government post) - Michael Bates - resigned after being late for a meeting. Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 10:13
  • @Rekesoft isn't Spain in Southern Europe? I'm an immigrant here, from North-Western-soon-to-be-ex Europe, and find it shocking that not only can politicians get away with never resigning, but that people continue to vote for them; effectively sending the message that it's normal accepted behaviour. ¡Flipado!
    – Aaron F
    Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 10:23

You don't specify which officeholders you have in mind, but many times the public calls for someone's resignation because it might be the only or quickest way to remove them from office.

For example, the only way to remove a US representative or senator is by expulsion of their respective house, which is very rare. In other words, if a constituency (a state or district) is unhappy with their representative, they cannot recall them, so the only way to get them out of office is to force their resignation, as the Senate or House is unlikely to do it.

Other officeholders might not be removable by public vote, either. As of 2003, at least, only 18 states allowed for recall of the governor. Although impeachment is an option, it's very difficult (as is a recall vote).

So, one major reason people try to force resignations is because it might be the only or the most expedient way to remove them from office.

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    Individual representatives and senators generally can't wield much power without the assistance of others. Except when there is a very close vote, a member of Congress who alienates everyone else would be nearly indistinguishable from an empty seat. If Alice calls for a Bob's resignation, that's usually an indication that Bob isn't likely to receive any more support or assistance from the Alice. That wouldn't mean much if Alice is Bob's opponent (she probably wouldn't support him anyway), but could be devastating if she had previously been his ally.
    – supercat
    Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 18:35

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