In 2017, in response to the Access Hollywood tape and the shock of Donald Trump’s election, I embarked on a research project. I wanted to understand how so many people could support a leader who had bragged about being a sexual predator. And I wanted to know why I experienced such visceral disgust for Trump’s character but so many others in the United States did not.
I left my job working for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to pursue this project. After four years of studying, surveying, analyzing, writing, and editing, my work was accepted for publication in the Political Studies Review—just as seven women stepped forward to accuse my former employer of sexual harassment or assault. (Cuomo has denied the allegations.) What I found helps explain how Trump weathered 19 accusations of sexual harassment or assault with the support of his party, while Cuomo faces growing calls for his resignation. Democrats, I learned, are more likely than Republicans to believe claims of sexual harassment and assault—and more likely to conclude that a politician who commits such acts will also abuse the powers of his office in other ways.
In the study, respondents were introduced to a hypothetical candidate for office named Jamie Easton. A control group read a two-paragraph biography, while the rest of the participants read the same text with one sentence tacked on: “During the election, two former staffers went public with an accusation that Easton had groped and sexually harassed them while they worked together three years ago; it was revealed the parties settled a lawsuit about the matter.” In addition, a portion of the Republican participants were told that Easton was a member of the GOP, while a portion of the Democratic participants were told that he was a Democrat.