WASHINGTON (AP) — Most Americans say sexual misconduct is a major problem and that too little is being done to protect victims, according to a new poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. But some — particularly Republican men — are concerned about the rights of the accused.
The sheer speed with which an accusation of sexual misconduct can sink a career rattles some men, and not just Republicans. Bart Cassida, a 40-year-old Democrat from Indiana, said he tends to believe the accusers. But he's concerned about employers "immediately dismissing people without proper investigation."
"People think that men don't mind being that kind of guy," someone physically assertive with women, said Dan Lee, 65, a Palm Springs, California, Democrat who retired after a four-decade career in computer science. "I think that's wrong ... men are concerned with their reputations."
The poll shows that nearly 6 in 10 Americans think there is too little protection for the rights of people who have been victims of workplace sexual misconduct. By contrast, just 37 percent think there's too little protection for people accused of sexual misconduct, 35 percent think there's the right amount and 26 percent think there's too much.
Majorities of women of all political persuasions, as well as male Democrats and independents, think too little is done to protect victims, but only about a third of male Republicans think the same. Among Republican men, by contrast, 52 percent think there are too few protections for the accused. Just 33 percent of Democratic men and 39 percent of Republican women think that's the case.
Whether there's a balance to be struck between protections for accusers and the rights of those accused of sexual misconduct is part of America's reckoning with the problem. Women and some men have come forward in recent months with allegations credible enough to topple titans of entertainment, news, and members of Congress — often with blinding speed. Just what is an unwelcome sexual advance, and whether there should be life-altering consequences for what some might see as just a dumb remark, have ignited ferocious exchanges across U.S. society.
"On that side of it someone should have a chance to defend themselves," said Cedar Rapids, Iowa, resident Emily Hass, 40, who says she's confronted two people who harassed her. She's among the 56 percent of Americans who think harassment is a major problem in U.S. workplaces. "Absolutely. I think we don't even know the half of it."
A third of working Americans say sexual misconduct is a very serious problem in their own workplace, a feeling most common among women, minorities and lower-income Americans. Three in 10 women and 1 in 10 men say that they've personally experienced sexual misconduct at work.
The tense discussion goes to the pinnacle of American government. Americans elected President Donald Trump even after they heard a recording of him boasting of groping women and knew he stood accused of assaulting or harassing more than a dozen women. He has denied any wrongdoing and has vowed to sue his accusers. Nearly a year into his presidency, that hasn't happened.
Misconduct allegations have been made against several members of Congress, including Sen. Al Franken, who plans to step down due to sexual assault accusations. Allegations of sexual misconduct, many of them denied, have forced a reconsideration of lifetimes of work by accused men, such as former President Bill Clinton, actor Kevin Spacey and Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. And voters in overwhelmingly Republican Alabama on Dec. 12 elected a Democrat, Doug Jones, to the Senate for the first time in a quarter century. The Republican candidate, Roy Moore, stood accused of sexual misconduct with teenage girls while he was in his 30s. Moore denied the charges. Trump endorsed Moore.
The poll shows that majorities of Americans think broad sectors of society are not doing enough to prevent sexual misconduct, including institutions including the entertainment industry, colleges and universities, state and federal governments, the military and the news media.
The sweeping nature of the national reckoning shows no sign of being resolved soon, the poll found. Overall, two-thirds think sexual misconduct happens in most or even all workplaces and more than 8 in 10 say false accusations happen at least some of the time.
And while a third of women worry at least somewhat about being victims, an equal percentage of men worry at least somewhat about being falsely accused. The abrupt firing of NBC's Matt Lauer from the helm of the "Today" show this month rattled Cassida.
"By the time I had heard about it, he had already been let go. And I kind of went, whoa," said the Greencastle, Indiana, high school math teacher, a Democrat. NBC officials said they had identified a pattern of troubling behavior before giving Lauer the ax.
Lee worries that the privacy of accusers is protected more than the names of the accused. "You always heard rumors about who was being accused. But you never heard who was doing the accusing." Still the poll finds many hope the attention given to sexual misconduct will make a positive difference. Most Americans — 55 percent — think the spate of recent high-profile cases will result in change for the better for women.
The AP-NORC poll surveyed 1,020 adults from Dec. 7-11 using a sample drawn from NORC's probability-based AmeriSpeak panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.