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Poll shows Americans express less support for sexual misconduct survivors

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FILE PHOTO:    Caitlyn MacGregor, with
Caitlyn
MacGregor, with “#metoo” written on her face and wearing a pink
“pussyhat”, attends the second annual Women’s March in
Cambridge

Thomson
Reuters


  • A new poll from YouGov and The Economist shows
    Americans, particularly Trump voters and women, showing less
    support for survivors of sexual violence a year after the
    #MeToo movement took root.
  • Nicole Bedera, a sociologist who specializes in gender
    and sexual violence, told Business Insider that the reality is
    more complicated than one survey can capture–especially without
    polling before #MeToo.
  • Bedera also pointed out that party identification is a
    far more powerful indicator of support for sexual misconduct
    survivors than gender.

The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have brought down dozens of
powerful men and sparked a nationwide reckoning over issues of
sexual harassment and violence, but a new YouGov/The Economist
poll
shows Americans are far less inclined to support
survivors than they were one year ago.

YouGov polled 1,500 Americans on the same questions surrounding
sexual misconduct in early November 2017, just a
few weeks after The New York Times and the New Yorker reported on
the sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein, and in
the last week of September
2018. 

From 2017 to 2018, the percentage of adults agreeing that false
rape allegations were a bigger problem than sexual assault rose
from 13% to 18% — and from 20% to 35% among people who said they
voted for President Donald Trump.

While the percentage of adults agreeing with the statement “women
who complain about sexual harassment cause more problems than
they solve” changed by just a few points, the number of Trump
voters agreeing jumped by 10 percentage points. The number of
women agreeing increased by 4%, while the percentage of men
agreeing remained more or less the same. 

The starkest difference in opinion were the responses to the
statement “men who sexually harassed women 20 years ago should
not lose their jobs today,” to which 28% responded yes in 2017
and 36% in 2018. The number of women agreeing increased by 7%,
and the percentage of Trump voters saying so jumped by 20 points.

Nicole Bedera, a PhD candidate in sociology at the University of
Michigan whose research focuses on sexual
violence
, cautioned against drawing broad conclusions from
the survey alone due to the timing of the surveys and phrasing of
some of the questions.

In an email to Business Insider, Bedera said that because 2017
results were conducted a few weeks after the #MeToo hashtag first
took root on Twitter, they weren’t enough of a baseline result to
accurately show how people would respond to the same questions
before #MeToo.

This means while support may have decreased compared to last
year, it still may be much higher on net than before the movement
started and dozens of men were toppled by sexual misconduct
allegations. 

Bedera also argued that the results may be skewed by the
complicated phrasing of some questions, making them difficult to
answer, particularly the question on women reporting harassment
“causing more problems than they solve.” 

“Most organizations are very ill-equipped to deal with sexual
harassment in any meaningful way,” she said.

“The result is that even people who support survivors of sexual
assault would have a hard time seeing survivors as solving any
problems by coming forward… but that isn’t so much a failing of
survivors as the systems they report to,” she added.

Party identification is often more predictive of a person’s
opinion than gender


Kavanaugh protest NYC
Demonstrators in New York
protest against the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Brett
Kavanaugh

Mark
Lennihan/AP


Bedera said that overall, “the survey captures the difficulty of
holding a perpetrator of sexual assault or harassment
accountable, particularly when that perpetrator is someone we
might otherwise care about or hope will succeed.”

She added that the partisan divides in the results show the
“dangers of politicizing sexual misconduct: that when the person
accused is someone on our side, we will be quick to look the
other way — or even actively defend them.”

The Economist noted in its analysis of the data that the average
size of the shifts away from believing survivors were larger
among women than men, but both they and Bedera pointed out that
party identity is usually far more predictive of a given person’s
views of sexual misconduct — or any issue — than their
gender. 

“Women are not a homogeneous group,” Bedera explained. 
“White women in particular are divided on issues like sexual
violence, largely along party lines. There is also a substantial
political divide between single and married white women.”

This broad phenomenon is reflected in the survey data, with the
gap between Trump and Clinton voters six times larger than the
gaps in opinion between men and women for three of the questions.

“To understand why women are showing greater support for men
accused of sexual assault or harassment, it’s important to
note which women are expressing those values,”
Bedera continued. “For example, mothers of college men accused of
sexual assault often come to the defense of their sons,
regardless of the credibility of the claims against them.”

These divides were also reflected in the public opinion polling
on embattled Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who became a
particularly polarizing nominee when two women accused him of
sexually assaulting them in the early 1980s. 

While the gender gap on support for his confirmation averaged
about 18 points the day before his confirmation, the divide in
support for Kavanaugh was a stunning 100 points, around -75
points among Democrats, but +75 among Republicans, according to a FiveThirtyEight
analysis.

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