A new poll is the latest evidence of a dramatic partisan breakdown over what to do about sexual assault allegations: A majority of Republicans are willing to support political candidates who face multiple accusations of sexual assault, while a vast majority of Democrats are not.
The poll, released on Wednesday morning by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute, asked a representative sample of Americans this question: “If a political candidate has been accused of sexual assault by multiple people, would you still consider voting for them if you agreed with them on the issues, or would you definitely not vote for them?”
Fifty-six percent of Republicans said they would consider voting for a candidate who had been accused by multiple people; only 34 percent said they would not. By contrast, 81 percent of Democrats said they would not vote for such a candidate, and only 16 percent said they’d consider it:
Republican women are significantly less willing than Republican men to support an accused sexual predator (though nearly half still said they would), and Democratic women are slightly less willing to do so than Democratic men.
Obviously, some of this is a partisan response to the Brett Kavanaugh allegations. Democrats want Kavanaugh to be disqualified from the Supreme Court, while Republicans want him to be on it. Their poll answers reflect the opinions they need to have in this particular political moment.
But there’s something deeper here too. When Sen. Al Franken faced multiple allegations of sexual misconduct in December 2017, Democrats forced him to resign. In the Alabama Senate election that same month, the overwhelming majority of Republican voters backed Roy Moore despite multiple well-documented allegations of the candidate preying on underage girls (also, Donald Trump is president).
What’s going here is a classic divide over social change. The Democratic Party, in keeping with its social credos, has fully embraced the #MeToo movement: both its leaders and rank-and-file members committing to the idea that sexual assault is underreported and that abusers deserve to be heard.
Republican leaders and voters, including accused sexual assault perpetrator Donald Trump, have openly worried that the movement is going too far — that false accusations are running rampant and men shouldn’t be punished in the way they have been since the Harvey Weinstein allegations broke. “It’s a very scary time for young men in America,” as Trump put it in comments to press on Tuesday.
So this poll helps explain why Republicans are going forward with Kavanaugh, sure. But it also explains the growing divide over gender and social change in the United States — with Democrats embracing shifting norms and the GOP fully embodying its role as the party of backlash.