The Political Impact of #MeToo

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Whether it’s politicians, entertainment moguls, or sports coaches, no industry is immune to the perils of sexual harassment. High profile men, such as entertainment magnate Harvey Weinstein, RNC Finance Chair Steve Wynn, and White House Aide Rob Porter, have lost their jobs due to sexual assault and abuse allegations. The #MeToo movement has encouraged a wave of women to share their sexual harassment experiences and confront men who have behaved inappropriately. The media has been filled with coverage, including Larry Nasser’s trial, and the Hollywood award shows have been public platforms for the biggest celebrities to call for change. Consequently, men in power are being forced to step down from their positions. According to one study, at least 40 lawmakers across 20 states have been accused of sexual misconduct or harassment.

In our recent national survey of 1,000 adults, we asked how people are feeling about the handling of sexual harassment and domestic abuse allegations. Interestingly, but maybe not surprisingly, there is no apparent consensus among Americans when it comes to whether these allegations and the consequential firings are a step in the right direction for women’s rights or if the allegations are ruining lives without giving the proper due process. Indeed, 45% of Americans believe the resignations and legal actions in response to the movement show significant progress in women’s rights, 35% believe the allegations are being handled as guilty verdicts without the accused being given the right of due process, and 20% are unsure.

Irrespective of whether this is a step in the right direction or not, there is also little agreement on what the consequences of these revelations should be. On average, 74% of Americans believe sexual assault or domestic abuse allegations should prevent someone from holding a position of power in politics, business, entertainment, and academia. Specifically, a plurality of Americans point to politics and academia where these should be disqualifying events while there is a less strong agreement when it comes to business and entertainment leadership. Democrats, more strongly than Republicans, believe men who have been accused of sexual harassment should not hold positions of power. Across all sectors, on average, 83% Democrats agree, while 71% Republicans agree.

Sadly, sexual harassment it turns out, may be another divisive issue in today’s hyper-partisan political environment. According to our survey results, 60% Democrats view the handling of sexual assault allegations as fair, while only 34% of Republicans share this view. Not surprisingly, those who voted for Donald Trump and those who voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Presidential Elections divide similarly to the Democrat-GOP divide.

Trump himself has been on the receiving end of multiple sexual assault accusations as have members of his White House team. Recently, the two ex-wives came forward alleging White House Aide Rob Porter of domestic abuse. The White House apparently knew about these allegations for months, indicating a more relaxed attitude towards sexual assault and domestic abuse.

Trump detractors were quick to point to these issues as disqualifying events to either vote for, or continue support for, Trump. Surprisingly, Trump supporters agree. Almost three-quarters (71%) of those who voted for Trump in 2016 agreed that sexual harassment should prevent a person from holding a position of political power. Trump voters also believe such allegations should prevent people from holding positions of power in other sectors such as academia, business, and entertainment. Furthermore, 77% of women who voted for Trump agree sexual harassment should prevent a person from holding a position of power, and 66% of men who voted for Trump feel this way as well.

Trump opponents will say these numbers represent a unique hypocrisy of the President’s supporters; however, as of right now, this is not a voting issue for many. Americans do not want sexual harassers to succeed, but these feelings are not strong enough to switch support from one party to another.