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Republicans’ changing views fuel sharp rise in concerns about harassment, Post-ABC poll finds

Concerns about workplace sexual harassment are up once again, after reaching a high point in October, with Republicans driving the latest push in labeling harassment a serious national problem.

Americans are split about whether widespread attention on sexual harassment in recent months has gone too far, not gone far enough or been about right. But over 6 in 10 predict that the recent attention to the issue will create a lasting change in the way society deals with the sexual harassment of women, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

A 72 percent majority now says sexual harassment of women in the workplace is a “serious problem,” up eight percentage points from an October Post-ABC poll and 25 points from 2011. The latest survey finds 11 percent say harassment is a problem, but not serious, while 13 percent say it’s not a problem at all.

Republicans expressed the least concern of any political party in October, with 42 percent saying harassment of women at work is a serious problem, little different from 38 percent in 2011. But that has rocketed to 59 percent in the latest survey, a 17-point rise.

The sharpest increase occurred among Republican men. The percentage saying workplace harassment of women is a serious problem rose by 19 points from October to this month, 38 to 57 percent. Just under half of Republican women said it was a serious problem in October, and that’s now up to about 6 in 10.

Republicans’ rising concern has shrunken the partisan divide on the issue, although a significantly larger 84 percent of Democrats and 72 percent of independents say harassment is a serious problem facing the country. The gender gap is smaller but also persists, with 77 percent of women and 67 percent of men saying workplace harassment of women is a serious problem.

After the latest rise in concern, a majority of every major demographic and political group now says workplace sexual harassment of women is a serious problem in the United States.

The #MeToo movement — where women shared their stories of workplace sexual harassment — erupted soon after sordid tales of movie producer Harvey Weinstein’s harassment and preying upon women were published last fall in the New York Times and New Yorker.

The viral #MeToo campaign started a global conversation about sexual harassment and assault. The Post spoke to a number of people about what the hashtag means. (Video: Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

The latest rise in concern follows a persistent wave of high-profile sexual harassment accusations against men across many industries, including the media and politics. In November, women came forward with stories of sexual harassment by news anchors Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose, and in December, women accused Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) of misconduct. All three men have since resigned or been pushed out of their positions.

December also brought allegations of sexual harassment or misconduct by Congress’s longest-serving member, Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), as well as Reps. Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev.), Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.) and Trent Franks (R-Ariz.). The lawmakers have since resigned or said they would not seek reelection. The moment of reckoning has also prompted a reexamination of allegations of sexual misconduct against President Trump by 13 women.

The poll finds some evidence of fatigue or even backlash to the #MeToo movement. Almost a third, 32 percent of U.S. adults, say the recent attention to the issue of workplace sexual harassment has “gone too far.” A similar 34 percent say the recent attention has been “about right,” while 29 percent say it hasn’t gone far enough.

Men are slightly more likely than women to say the recent attention has gone too far, 35 percent of men compared with 29 percent of women, but partisanship is the biggest divider on this question. Almost half of Republicans say it’s gone too far (49 percent), compared with 29 percent of independents and less than a quarter of Democrats (23 percent). Similar shares of Republican men and women — 47 percent and 52 percent, respectively — say attention to the issue has gone too far.

There is greater agreement that recent attention on sexual harassment of women will create a lasting change in the way society deals with the problem. Over 6 in 10 U.S. adults say it will create lasting change while under a third, say “things will end up going back to the way they’ve been in the past.”

Older Americans are those most likely to say the recent attention will create lasting change, with 70 percent of those 65  and older saying so compared with 54 percent of those under 40 years old.

The Post-ABC poll was conducted Jan. 15-18 among a random sample of 1,005 adults reached on cell and landline phones with a margin of sampling error of 3.5 percentage points.