To Believe or Not to Believe: A Closer Look at the Impact of Sexual Assault in Politics
Emily Brandes ’21
Scott Meinke, Political Science
Since the viral 2017 #MeToo movement, public opinion on cases of sexual misconduct has been shaped by the mainstream media coverage of high profile stories. A shift in public attitude towards these issues has encouraged more victims to come forward and share their stories, many detailing harrowing events perpetrated by successful businessmen and politicians. Credible accusations continue to come forward, and while some end in legal action, many do not, and perpetrators face little to no consequences. I examined how individuals respond to issues of sexual misconduct and assault in politics, and based on the severity of the accusation, how they respond. Through my survey data research, I was able to isolate responses to see the influence that party affiliation and gender have on individuals opinion formation, as well as how the politicians prior conduct history affects the response. The research reflects an overall partisan difference between Republicans and Democrats in terms of reaction, with Democrats consistently being in favor of harsher consequences, both when Democratic, and Republican perpetrators are involved. Additionally, individuals respond more harshly when the accused politician is of the opposite party. This pattern was consistent across the different severity treatments, as well as the conduct history treatments. Generally, when a history of sexual misconduct was present, individuals of both parties reacted more harshly. In summation, there is significant evidence of partisan bias in the public evaluation of sexual misconduct allegations. I also discuss several prominent cases of sexual misconduct by politicians in order to demonstrate how the public has formed opinions in the wake of scandal.