Like Trump, Utah conservatives are wary of the #MeToo movement

(Carolyn Kaster | AP Photo) President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a rally at the Four Seasons Arena at Montana ExpoPark on Thursday, July 5, 2018, in Great Falls, Mont. During a rally in Montana last week, President Donald Trump mocked the #MeToo movement with comments representative of a partisan divide over the issue.

During a rally in Montana last week, President Donald Trump mocked the #MeToo movement as he imagined throwing an ancestry testing kit to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., in an effort to make her prove her claimed Native American heritage.

“We are going to do it gently because we’re the #MeToo generation, so we have to be very careful,” the president said to scattered laughter from the crowd.

From Hollywood to the auto industry and from the media to politics and business, the sweeping social media movement has resulted in accusations against and the fall from power of at least 71 high-profile men.

Nearly nine months after the social media hashtag demonstrated the scope and frequency of people’s experience with sexual assault, harassment and abuse, the president’s derision of #MeToo is representative of the wide partisan divide that has developed around the movement.

A new poll commissioned by The Salt Lake Tribune and the Hinckley Institute of Politics shows 44 percent of Utahns view the #MeToo movement favorably, and while there is general agreement between men and women, the poll found a deep convergence in public perception between conservatives and liberals.

“We’re seeing increased polarization and political tribalism throughout the country,” Morgan Lyon Cotti, associate director of the Hinckley Institute, said of the results. “And here in Utah as well, we can see evidence of the deep divide between the parties with these viewpoints on the #MeToo movement.”

The survey of 654 registered voters statewide found that 87 percent of respondents who identified as “very liberal” said their opinion of the movement is either very or somewhat favorable, while only 16 percent of “very conservative” respondents said the same. A third of respondents said they viewed the movement neutrally or had no opinion. The poll, which was conducted from June 11-June 18, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.

Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune

Cotti said it’s possible that some conservatives associate the movement with the liberal “resistance,” which could make them more prone to see it through a partisan lens. But in her eyes, #MeToo is not political.

“The equal treatment of everyone should be an issue that is above party,” she said. “And we are seeing that people that are accused of sexual misconduct, it goes across parties — we’ve seen people accused on the Republican side and on the Democrat side. So it is interesting that members of the parties are still divided on this.”

A survey of 1,000 people conducted by YouGov America for the Bucknell Institute for Public Policy in March demonstrates that the partisan divide over #MeToo extends beyond Utah — with 62 percent of Democratic respondents nationwide viewing the movement favorably compared to 20 percent of Republicans.

Though he said perpetrators of sexual abuse and harassment exist across party lines, Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, speculated that leadership at the top of the Republican Party may have something to do with those differences.

“Much credible information exists out there to suggest that Donald Trump is high on the list of individuals who have assaulted and abused and harassed people,” he said. “So you have a tendency, I think, among conservatives to circle the wagons around him in an attempt to sort of deny that this is an issue that he’s vulnerable on.”

At least sixteen women have come forward with a range of accusations against Trump, many after the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape in which he was caught on an open microphone bragging about groping women. Those allegations came back into the spotlight in the wake of the #MeToo movement, with some Democrats calling for the president’s resignation.

But some conservatives say the Republican view of #MeToo has less to do with a lack of support for survivors coming forward or perpetrators facing consequences and more to do with distaste for the way the movement itself has progressed.

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Margaret Dayton speaks at the Republican Special Convention for Utah Congressional District 3 at Timpview High School on June 17, 2017. Dayton, a former Republican lawmaker and the longest-serving woman legislator in Utah history, said she thinks there are negatives and positives to the #MeToo movement.

“The #MeToo movement brings to light an important social flaw, and that’s the objectification of women,” said Margaret Dayton, a former Republican state senator and the longest-serving woman legislator in Utah history. “And that’s the good part of it. The negative part of it is it seems to be a pile-on to make it a very anti-male effort in every way.”

Gayle Ruzicka, president of the conservative Utah Eagle Forum, expressed concern for those who have been abused but raised concerns about false or exaggerated accusations being tried in the public arena.

“The thing that bothers me the most about all this is that charges are made and then they’re made public before it’s really been investigated,” she said. “And so lives are ruined and people are hurt, children are deeply hurt, just because it’s published that somebody has made a claim against another person.”

Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, has worked on issues pertaining to sexual assault in the past and countered that false accusations are rare, while the problem of underreporting is widespread.

“When we’re talking about sexual assault, I know we have a long way to go because I still think women are questioned,” she said. “They’re not believed.”

And far from going too wide, she added, the movement hasn’t done enough to incite policy change.

“I’m glad we’re talking about #MeToo,” she said. “But if we really want to change, we really have to look at the way we implement policy, and the social structures of our religious institutions [and] how we operate in the private sector and within government.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake, was the sponsor of House Bill 200, which passed in 2017 and implements funding to create a statewide sexual assault kit tracking system that will allow survivors to monitor their rape kits in real time, discusses progress being made during a press event at the Calvin Rampton Complex in Taylorsville on Wed. June 6, 2018. Romero said she thinks the results of the #MeToo haven't yet been reflected in policy.

The #MeToo movement has forced people to reconsider norms of behavior and their perceptions of what perpetrators look like, said Laurie Hofmann, board chairwoman of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault (UCASA), which can cause resistance at first. But with more information and better conversations, she thinks the number of Utahns who view the movement unfavorably would decline.

“I really and truly think that there is a tremendous amount of education that is still needed as to what sexual harassment is, as to what sexual violence is, as to what sexual assault is,” she said.

As part of that effort, UCASA has launched a statewide listening tour to discuss #MeToo, where Hofmann said she’s seen success fostering further understanding about the movement and its underlying issues not only across the political spectrum but also among men and women.

Though men were about 7 percentage points more likely to view the movement unfavorably than women (27 percent to 20 percent), the Tribune-Hinckley poll showed relative agreement between them. Some 46 percent of women and 42 percent of men said they view the #MeToo movement favorably.

“This is not an issue of man versus woman; this is not an issue of red versus blue,” Hofmann said. “This is a human issue and we need to address this as a human issue — not a political issue.”