Americans are deeply divided in how they view accusations of sexual assault, sexual harassment and other kinds of sexual misconduct. They’re divided on broader issues about gender and the role of women in American society. But, with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford set to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week and new allegations coming out against Kavanaugh on Sunday, it’s worth noting that the biggest divide is not between men and women on these issues, but between Democrats and Republicans.
Maybe that’s not too surprising when it comes to Ford’s allegation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when both were in high school. A HuffPost/YouGov poll released last week found that 34 percent of men did not find Ford’s allegation credible, compared with 23 percent of women. Yet 60 percent of Republicans did not think her allegation was credible, compared with 8 percent of Democrats.
But this pattern — a bigger split by party than by gender — is not just seen in heavily partisan situations, like a Supreme Court nomination fight. Earlier this year, the Pew Research Center asked how the increased attention on sexual assault and harassment has affected workplace dynamics. Overall, about 51 percent of Americans said it is now harder for men to know how to interact with women at work, compared with 33 percent who said it didn’t make much of a difference. Sixty-four percent of Republicans and 55 percent of men said it was harder for men to navigate the workplace in the #MeToo era, compared with 42 percent of Democrats and 47 percent of women. That’s a 22-point partisan gap, compared with only an 8-point gender gap.
In a CNN poll conducted last year, 85 percent of Democrats said that sexual harassment is an “extremely serious” or “very serious” problem in the U.S., compared with 45 percent of Republicans. Again, the gender gap was more narrow: 73 percent of women and 63 percent of men said sexual harassment is an extremely or very serious problem. The #MeToo movement, according to a recent HuffPost/YouGov poll, is viewed favorably by 71 percent of Democrats, 51 percent of women, 36 percent of men and 26 percent of Republicans.
Even on gender issues more broadly, the partisan divide outstretches the gender one. Democrats, for example, are much more likely than Republicans to say that there are too few women in top roles in business and politics and to see gender discrimination as a principal reason for that disparity. Gender gaps exist on those questions too, but they are smaller.
You might reasonably think that this is a new dynamic. After all, the last two years have featured Republican men and women rallying behind President Trump despite more than a dozen allegations of sexual misconduct against him, while Democratic men and women backed Hillary Clinton’s bid to become the first female president. But some data suggests the partisan divide on these issues predates Clinton-Trump. In 2014, amid a spate of news about sexual assaults of women in the military, a Pew Research poll found that many more Democrats (49 percent) than Republicans (25 percent) believed that the military had a systemic, cultural problem with sexual assaults. Republicans were more likely to argue the assaults were individual acts of misconduct. There was a smaller gender gap, with women (43 percent) more likely than men (38 percent) to see a systemic issue.
Similarly in 2014, with major stories emerging about the high number of sexual assaults on college campuses, Democrats were way more likely than Republicans to describe sexual assaults on college campuses as an “extremely important issue,” according to a YouGov poll.
The gender gap was significantly smaller.
I think we can safely say that members of the two parties differed on gender issues before Clinton-Trump, and it’s likely the last two years reinforced and perhaps exacerbated existing tensions along party lines.
There is one important caveat to party being a bigger divide than gender on these issues. Many polls don’t break down people by party and gender (so male Democrats and female Republicans, for example). But the polls that do break down by gender and party usually find that within each party, there is a gender gap, with more women taking the view that gender discrimination and misconduct is a major issue and more men expressing concern about how the #MeToo movement might have negative effects on men. Republican men, for example, are more likely than Republican women (68 percent vs. 59 percent) to think workplace dynamics are harder for men now that there is more attention to sexual harassment and sexual misconduct, according to Pew.
Overall, the data suggests that on these issues, party, not gender, is the main divide. So this CNN segment that went semi-viral last week, depicting several conservative-leaning women defending Kavanaugh and being skeptical of Ford, should not have been surprising. Nor would a segment showing older men defending Ford — if the men were Democrats. Views on sexual misconduct have, like seemingly every issue, become partisan in America today.