December 7, 2017

Women and men in both parties say sexual harassment allegations reflect ‘widespread problems in society’

By a wide margin, the U.S. public views recent reports of sexual harassment and assault as more reflective of widespread problems in society rather than acts of individual misconduct. Majorities across all demographic and partisan groups – including men and women in both parties – hold this view.

Overall, two-thirds of Americans (66%) say the recent allegations “mainly reflect widespread problems in society,” compared with just 28% attributing them mainly to individual misconduct, according to a new survey by Pew Research Center, conducted Nov. 29-Dec. 4 among 1,503 adults.

Women are more likely than men (71% vs. 60%) to see allegations of sexual misconduct as mainly reflective of broad societal problems. Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (70%) are also somewhat more likely to say this than Republicans and Republican leaners (61%).

Among Republicans and leaners, women are more likely than men to say the recent allegations reflect widespread problems in society – 69% of GOP women say this, compared with 54% of Republican men. Gender differences among Democrats are more modest (74% of Democratic women see the allegations as a societal problem vs. 66% of Democratic men).

Among all Americans, women college graduates stand out for their belief that the reports of sexual harassment represent widespread problems in society. An 86% majority of women who have at least a four-year degree express this view – higher than the shares of male college graduates (67%) and women and men with lower levels of education.

The recent flood of reports about sexual harassment and violence by high-profile men in fields ranging from entertainment to politics have resonated with the public. More than nine-in-ten (92%) have heard at least a little about alleged harassment and assault by prominent men in entertainment, politics and the media and 74% say they have heard “a lot.”

The public overwhelmingly sees the issue of sexual assault and harassment as very important for the country. About three-quarters of the public (74%) say it is “very important” for the country. Among five current issues tested, only proposed changes to the federal tax system rank as important as sexual assault and harassment in the public’s view.

Democrats and Democratic leaners are 20 percentage points more likely than Republicans and Republican leaners to view the issue of sexual assault and harassment as very important. Nevertheless, nearly nine-in-ten Republicans (87%) say it is at least somewhat important. Very few Republicans or Democrats regard this issue as not important.

More women than men say the issue of sexual assault and harassment is very important. And adults younger than 30 are more likely to view this issue as very important than are people 50 and older.

Note: See full topline results and methodology (PDF). 

Topics: Social Values

  1. Photo of Baxter Oliphant

    is a research associate focusing on U.S. politics and policy at Pew Research Center.