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Women Believing Badly
Women and people of color are the least likely to believe spurious accusations. Why does the left insist the opposite is true?
On April 28th, a woman named Jean Kim accused Scott Stringer of sexually assaulting her in 2001, when she was a volunteer on his campaign for public advocate. In keeping with the new progressive standard of accepting all public claims of harm at face value, nearly every major Stringer endorser pulled their support within 48 hours. Not a shred of evidence was presented in support of these allegations, but Kim’s attorney did offer a number of deliberate distortions to the press regarding her client’s relationship with Stringer - both at the time and in the years that followed.
Subsequent reporting uncovered just how grossly Kim misrepresented key facts in her narrative. For a few weeks, the newfound cultural taboo against evaluating an accuser’s credibility kept mounting skepticism among the progressive establishment under wraps. But it burst into view on May 16th, when Jamaal Bowman told a meeting of the Bronx’s Indivisible chapter that he regretted rescinding his endorsement. He did so, he told them, because he was trying to center the voices and experiences of women:
“I’m not a woman. I’ve never experienced assault before. So my north star is people who have, and that’s kind of what I leaned on as I spoke to a lot of people and just got their feedback. And so I tried to be sensitive to that and just be responsive to the moment.”
Quite frankly, I sometimes regret it - I wasn’t more patient, I didn’t ask more questions, I didn’t call for other things - because I do like Scott.”
This begs the question: who decides which women’s voices and experiences become the north star that leaders like Bowman are expected to follow?
In the only public poll that ever asked about the allegations against Stringer, women were less likely than men to believe they were credible. People of color were also more skeptical of Kim than whites - Black respondents most of all. You might suspect splits like these to be a simple case of crypto-partisanship: women and people of color are more likely to be Democrats, who are less disposed to believe allegations against officials in their party. But for this question, only registered Democrats were polled.
Polling data from comparable scandals in the Me Too era reveals the same pattern. Since 2017, three Democratic politicians serving in statewide elected office have been publicly accused of sexual harassment or sexual assault: former senator Al Franken of Minnesota, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax of Virginia, and Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York. In all cases, women and people of color were least likely to either believe the alleged misconduct took place, or to support calls for the accused to resign from office. Few polls surveyed only Democrats, so partisanship certainly played a role in these disparities. But that merely demonstrates that gender is far from the biggest influence on how people evaluate claims of sexual misconduct against politicians.
In November 2017, radio host Leeann Tweeden published an account of a USO tour she participated in with Franken in 2006. Tweeden said Franken pressured her into adding a kiss to a scene they had been performing, and that during rehearsals, Franken kissed her aggressively in a way that overstepped professional boundaries. She also released a photo of Franken touching her chest over her body armor while she was asleep. Over the next week, seven other women came forward to say that Franken touched them inappropriately when posing for photos with them at public events over the years. Franken maintained he didn’t intentionally harass any of the women, but apologized for making them feel uncomfortable.
I found six public polls from the subsequent months asking respondents about the scandal: Politico/Morning Consult, KSTP/SurveyUSA, Economist/YouGov, Public Policy Polling, Minneapolis Star Tribune, and Suffolk. All but Suffolk broke down responses by either race, gender, or both.
The Politico survey was the first to appear, and was the only one to show majority support for Franken’s resignation. It was also the only poll in which a non-white demographic - in this case Hispanics - supported resignation at a higher rate than whites. Moreover, though the survey found that men and women actively supported resignation at roughly equal rates, more women expressed uncertainty about what should happen than men.
While the Politico poll was national, the KSTP survey interviewed only Minnesota adults. Their findings were more typical of later polling. Women were somewhat less likely to favor resignation than men, and Democrats overall much more likely than others to support Franken remaining in office, or waiting for the results of an ethics investigation. But even among men, support for resignation was barely one-third.
The next national survey came in December. This time women expressed much greater uncertainty than men that Franken committed sexual harassment. Black respondents were somewhat less certain than whites that Franken was guilty, but in contrast to Politico’s findings, Hispanics expressed the greatest skepticism of any demographic.
Franken announced on December 6th that he would resign before the Senate Ethics Committee could conduct an investigation. A survey of Minnesota voters taken later that month found most respondents were dissatisfied with this outcome. Women and people of color were substantially more opposed to Franken resigning than men and whites. But nearly two-thirds of every demographic thought his resignation was premature, and that the ethics committee should have first completed its review.
Another poll of Minnesota voters taken after Franken resigned found similar patterns. Women were much less likely to believe Franken committed sexual harassment. While men favored his resignation by 13 points, women opposed it by a whopping 25 points.
In February 2019, two women accused Justin Fairfax, the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, of sexual assault. Vanessa Tyson, a professor at Scripps College in California, said Fairfax assaulted her in her hotel room during the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Days later, a second woman named Meredith Watson said Fairfax raped her when they were both students at Duke University back in 2000. Fairfax admitted to having sex with both women, but maintained that their encounters were consensual.
I found six public polls from the subsequent months that asked about the allegations: Quinnipiac, Economist/YouGov, Christopher Newport University, Ipsos, Roanoke College, and Washington Post/George Mason. Of those, only the first three broke down responses by race and gender.
Quinnipiac found no major difference between which party men and women believed. About one-third said they thought the accusers were telling the truth, while majorities said they were unsure. However, Black respondents were much less likely to believe the accusers than white respondents, and much less likely than whites to support Fairfax resigning from office. Women also expressed significantly more uncertainty than men that Fairfax should resign.
The Economist/YouGov survey found the same thing. Interestingly, this poll also provides insight into what people mean when they say they “believe” an accuser, as it asked the question two different ways: do you believe the accusers, and how certain are you that Fairfax did it. While just under one-third of both men and women said they believed Tyson and Watson, only six percent said they believe Fairfax definitely assaulted them. For most respondents, “belief” is a probabilistic term.
Regarding whether Fairfax should resign, women were much less certain he should than men, and Black respondents much less certain he should than whites. But even among men, support for resignation was barely one-third, and majorities in almost every other demographic said they were unsure about the proper outcome.
A month later, much of that uncertainty appears to have vanished. A survey from the second half of March found men and white respondents favored resignation, while majorities of women and Black respondents supported Fairfax remaining in office.
In February 2021, a former aide to Andrew Cuomo named Lindsey Boylan accused him of sexual harassment, including forcibly kissing her in his office. Then in March, another former Cuomo aide named Charlotte Bennet alleged that the governor harassed her as well, asking about her sex life and whether she was interested in older men. Over the next month, more women came forward to say they’d experienced similar behavior, including groping and inappropriate remarks. Cuomo apologized for the suggestive comments, but denied allegations of nonconsensual touch.
Siena polled New Yorkers about the scandal every month from March through May. Women were somewhat less likely than men to believe the allegations or favor resignation, and people of color less likely than whites. Cuomo’s blockbuster support among Black respondents is particularly notable.
Substack is telling me I’m up against the size limit for an email, but additional polling from Emerson and Quinnipiac (twice) shows the same thing. A SurveyUSA poll from March found women and people of color somewhat more likely than men and whites to believe Cuomo committed a crime, but dramatically more opposed to him resigning.
Much of the left now regards politics that are merely in the interests of marginalized people as insufficient - perhaps even covertly reactionary. Truly liberatory politics, they tell us, must be informed by the views of the marginalized as they currently exist. “Believe women.” “Trust Black women.” “Women of color lead.”
Everyone knows that’s the last thing they really want, of course. If the views of women and people of color were accurately represented in public life, it would reveal just how dramatically they diverge from the views of people who claim to speak on their behalf. That would deprive the identitarian left of a potent weapon they’ve learned to deploy to great effect: the moral authority of the oppressed.
That’s how they got Jamaal Bowman to abandon Stringer even though he plainly didn’t want to. During the first mayoral debate in early June, Bowman retweeted praise for Stringer’s performance before undoing it minutes later, chastened by the new woke consensus. It’s also what kept Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from revealing she ranked Stringer second until the morning of Election Day.
Does anybody believe that Bowman would regret rescinding his endorsement, or that AOC would publicly cop to ranking Stringer at all, if either of them thought he got away with raping a staffer? Of course not. But the point isn’t for anyone to believe this rhetoric. It’s simply to make them think twice about admitting they don’t.