TURES COLUMN: Is sexual harassment in politics a ‘partisan affair?’

Published 10:30 am Saturday, August 7, 2021

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Whether it’s a governor of New York, or a former governor of Missouri, an ex-Minnesota Senator, or perhaps even a one-time U.S. president, there have been a number of politicians accused of sexual harassment. Even though the allegations have been against candidates from both parties, do voters judge them differently based upon partisan allegiance?

Stephanie Stark wondered if this was the case. According to the Washington Monthly, “Stephanie Stark, a researcher on sexual assault and harassment in American politics, decided to figure out how this could possibly be so. She left her job working for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (who later became embroiled in his own sexual harassment scandal) and created a study to examine which kinds of voters would be most likely to tolerate candidate allegations of sexual harassment.”

She surveyed more than 1,000 Democrats and Republicans, giving them a biography of a fictitious candidate, and told them that this hypothetical candidate for office sexually harassed two female staffers. Self-identified Republicans in the survey were told he was a Republican, while those claiming to Democrats were told that the faux candidate was a Democrat.

Stark found that gender and age made no difference in how survey respondents evaluated the made-up candidates. But partisanship did. Almost 60 percent of Republicans said they would be still willing to vote for him, even with the allegations. Less than 40 percent of Democrats said the same.

“Conservative people, who obviously tend to vote Republican, when they receive information about something that challenges social order or how they think of social cohesion, they want to reject it,’ Stark said,” according to the Washington Monthly story by Gregory Svirnovskiy.

To see if this was a fluke, I looked up additional research in Research & Politics by Mia Costa, who is a professor at Dartmouth College.

She and her students looked into the same subject in their article “How Partisanship and Sexism Influence Voters’ Reactions To Political #MeToo Scandals.”

She and her students found some partisan bias, but also found that “subjects were more forgiving of an accused co-partisan legislator than a legislator of the opposing party in their overall evaluation and their perceptions of punitive repercussions.” But their evaluation of candidates from their own party took a hit, just as much as they more negatively viewed someone from the other party.