Tuesday night in Alabama was an understandably proud one for supporters of the #MeToo movement. Here we had a Republican, Roy Moore, accused of sexual misconduct and pursuing teenage girls, and he lost in one of the reddest states in the country.
But this does not seem to be a watershed moment for the Republican Party when it comes to allegations of sexual harassment and assault, and a new Suffolk University poll shows why.
The poll, which was conducted before Moore's loss in the special U.S. Senate election and was released Wednesday, asked people whether they were “inclined to believe the women accusers” of prominent men. And fully 6 in 10 Americans said they were.
But among Republicans, that number was just 41 percent. A majority — 51 percent — didn't pick a side, while 6 percent said they were inclined to believe the men who were accused.
Poll after poll in recent weeks has also shown that Republicans are more willing to look past and are more skeptical of sexual harassment allegations. A Quinnipiac poll last month showed that 63 percent of the GOP wouldn't want President Trump impeached even if the sexual misconduct allegations against him were proven, and far fewer Republicans than Democrats said they wouldn't consider voting for a candidate facing multiple sexual harassment allegations. A more recent one showed that 50 percent of Republicans approved of Trump's endorsement of Moore, while just 25 percent disapproved.
Which, in some ways, isn't hugely surprising. The Republican Party, after all, fashions itself as more of the law-and-order party, and it has long believed that issues of racism and sexism are overblown (relative to the Democratic Party, at least). If you don't believe that women are so victimized or that sexual harassment is a systemic problem — or you demand proof for each allegation — then you bring more skepticism to each individual case.
In this case, a majority of Republicans seem to be saying that they don't favor either the women or the men in these situations. To them, this is a matter of being fair and not being prejudiced against either side. When Democrats say that women “deserve to be believed,” many Republicans seem to regard that as being biased against men and not giving them a fair hearing.
But in the political arena, that's a difficult standard to hold to — especially as the debate is clearly headed in the direction of believing the women. Allegations of sexual harassment are inherently difficult or near-impossible to prove, given that the alleged incidents may have occurred years or decades ago. Holding men who actually did these things accountable requires a certain degree of faith and trust in accusers, no matter from which party you come.
The problem is that in politics, you are being asked to trust someone who is saying something awful about a person who is on your own team — a person who believes in what you do and, accordingly, whose judgment you regard as sound. If you go into that already skeptical of such allegations, it will be easy to find something to confirm your skepticism. In the case of Moore, it was the fact that these allegations were based on events from 30-plus years ago and that they came out shortly before a major Senate race. There was also the mishandling of that alleged Moore yearbook signature by Gloria Allred.
In Alabama, Republican-leaning voters were concerned enough about the allegations to vote for Democrat Doug Jones or stay home, while Democrats — and especially black voters — seemed to be motivated by them. But it was still a 1.5-point race, and clearly most Republicans weren't buying into the allegations. In another state and with less-sordid allegations against a Republican nominee, it seems entirely possibly that we will see another version of Moore do just fine.