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Many voters are not moved by harassment claims -- but a partisan, gender divide emerges

As it turns out, sexual harassment is actually not a deal-breaker for a good many voters. Particularly, Repu...

Posted: Oct 4, 2018 12:33 PM
Updated: Oct 4, 2018 12:33 PM

As it turns out, sexual harassment is actually not a deal-breaker for a good many voters. Particularly, Republican voters, who demographically skew older and whiter, and more male, than the overall population.

A new poll from the Public Religion Research Institute -- taken before the accusations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh were levied -- shows a clear partisan divide in how people view candidates who are accused of sexual harassment.

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Aside from the poll, the political conversation around the #MeToo movement crystallized by the Kavanaugh saga is that the issue of believing women is in many ways partisan -- and both sides are energized. Republican voters seem more likely to see #MeToo as unfairly targeting men. And Democratic voters seem much more likely to see it as an overdue reckoning. The unknown is those GOP women, who, at least according to this poll, haven't quite made up their minds. Of course, the Kavanaugh hearings could move the needle, but it's unclear which way.

Now, a deeper look at the poll.

For Republicans, 56% say they would still consider voting for a candidate who faced accusations of sexual harassment by multiple people. It's the reverse for Democrats -- only 16% say they would still consider backing such a candidate.

There is also a gender divide.

Republican men are more apt to consider supporting such a candidate than Republican women -- the breakdown is 61% to 48% respectively. The gap between Democratic men and women is only 5 points.

The most notable data is what the poll found on GOP women, who are basically split. Among that group, which will be key in midterm races, 41% say they wouldn't vote for a candidate accused of sexual harassment by multiple women, and 48% say they would still consider it.

So, what to make of this data?

Well, it's clear that the GOP is firmly the party of President Donald Trump. More than a dozen women accused him of sexual harassment and assault ... and Republican voters overwhelmingly backed him. (Some polls have shown him with higher approval ratings among Republican voters than any other Republican president).

What does this mean for actual candidates? As I've written before, Roy Moore lost, but barely, earning much of the GOP vote in his Alabama Senate race, even after several women accused him of preying on them when they were underage.

Rep. Keith Ellison won the Democratic primary for Minnesota attorney general, after an ex-girlfriend accused him of domestic abuse. No high-profile Democrats have called for him to drop out of the race, though several have called for an investigation by the Ethics Committee. (Win or lose, Ellison is leaving his post and any investigation would end once he is no longer in Congress).

Voters, so far, seem to be siding with Ellison, who has denied the allegations. The GOP has said that Democrats are a bunch of partisan hypocrites for being relatively mum on Ellison, but going after Kavanaugh.

Of course, by this logic, they are partisan hypocrites as well, pointing to Ellison as well as other accused Democrats, but suggesting Kavanaugh is a victim of a partisan smear.

This poll was before the bitter, angry, partisan brawl over Kavanaugh, which has emboldened the already present conservative backlash against the #MeToo movement.

Here's a wild guess: polls taken post-Kavanaugh would likely show even more partisanship.

The possible elevation of Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court will be a doubling down on Trumpism for the GOP -- there isn't much room in the party to be critical of men accused of sexual misconduct. And Democrats, are firmly post-Bill Clinton in their assessments.

The PRRI poll was conducted by phone August 22-September 2 among a random national sample of 1,856 adults, results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points.

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