Polls indicate gender, party will play roles in November election

Published 6:53 am Saturday, October 20, 2018


Contributing columnist

Most American voters would not support candidates accused of sexual harassment by multiple people. That was the finding of a survey concluded on Sept. 2. Has the Kavanaugh decision changed that?

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The survey was conducted between Aug. 22 and Sept. 2 by the Public Religion Research Institute in Washington. It found that six of ten Americans would not support a candidate accused of sexual harassment by multiple people. About 32 percent would still consider voting for such a candidate. About 68 percent of women definitely would not. About 53 percent of men definitely would not. About 81 percent of Democrats (84 percent of women and 76 percent of men) definitely would not. Only 34 percent of Republicans would not (41 percent of women, 28 percent of men).

Overall then, 56 percent of Republicans would consider voting for a candidate faced with multiple accusations of sexual harassment. Party topped gender on the Republican side.

One has to assume that the foremost case in point in the minds of those surveyed must have been President Trump. If you believe it was his voice on Billy Bush’s “Access Hollywood” tape and/or think that even some of the 15 accusations against him from a list of women are valid, he fits the survey question’s description. 

According to the Oct. 15 Newsweek, a Quinnipiac poll in October 2016 found that a little over half of voters believed the allegations, but less than a third thought they should disqualify him.  About 52 percent of white women voted for him anyway. Then came the Women’s March and the #MeToo movement, and a year after the election, 89 percent of voters considered sexual harassment of women a serious problem, with 62 percent saying they would not vote for someone accused of harassment. That Quinnipiac finding is matched by the recent PRRI poll.

Enter Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony and Judge Kavanaugh’s fiery defense. Some of the charges against Judge Kavanaugh alleged more than sexual harassment. His defenders cited the lack of corroborating evidence, and he was not running for public office; so his case does not fit exactly the hypothetical choice in the recent PRRI survey. Nevertheless, the inflamed allegations on both sides of the hearings might be expected to have effects in November. If the findings of the survey are still reflected in the electorate, they could be telling.

Another finding of the PRRI survey was that 60 percent of Americans think we would be better off with more women in public office, up slightly from 58 percent in 2016. The biggest-ever  number of women candidates (476 for the House alone) and the documented eagerness of women to vote have changed the environment of the campaigns for November. What will the 52 percent of white women who voted for President Trump despite the allegations do this time, and why?

Another finding of the PRRI poll may give us a clue. It finds 67 perent of Americans agreeing that pharmacists should not be able to refuse on religious grounds to provide contraceptives to women with valid prescriptions. Only 26 percent support such refusals. About 71 percent of women opposed the religious exemption for pharmacists; 64 percent of men did. About 76 percent of Democrats opposed it and 56 percent of Republicans. 

If we can assume some overlap between those who would not let offenses against women disqualify a candidate and those who believe that pharmacists should be able to refuse to fill prescriptions for contraceptives, we can probably locate the religious position that prompts people’s votes despite sexual offenses of a candidate. The issue is abortion and what can be done to revoke Roe v. Wade and even make abortion illegal. Contraception is equated with abortion since it may not only prevent pregnancy but terminate it. 

Pope Francis called abortion the equivalent of a Mafia hit man, and he apparently would not differentiate between a morning-after pill and a partial-birth abortion in the third trimester. It is important to insist that any termination of life or potential life is a moral question, but some very reputable Roman Catholic ethicists have challenged the creationist position, which holds that an individual soul is created at the moment of conception.

These ethicists point out that most fertilized eggs do not implant and develop into a distinct individual. Contraceptives that prevent implantation are stopping the development of life, but not ending the life of an already-distinct individual. The clear differentiation of an individual occurs with the appearance of a primitive streak between the second and third week of gestation. The zygote, which becomes a blastocyst in the sixth or seventh day after conception, is made of undifferentiated cells, as yet unassigned to a part of the body that they will become.  The Catholic ethicists just mentioned find support in their own tradition for allowing abortion before that point of differentiation. 

All of the moral questions surrounding abortion should not be ignored, and these brief statements will not change the minds of those who hold a creationist view. It is highly problematic, however, to legislate an equation between abortion and contraception (see the pharmacist question) that is disputed even within the religious communities that oppose reducing abortion policy merely to protection of a women’s right to control of her body. 

One achievement of Roe v. Wade is that it protects the woman’s right to choose while also giving growing protection to the developing fetus. The Kavanaugh hearings highlighted the clashing views about what the future of that court decision should be. The findings of the PRRI survey would seem to indicate where most Americans stand on that issue. Has the Kavanaugh vote and his addition to the Supreme Court made a difference?