Fewer Utahns say they support the #MeToo movement following Supreme Court hearings

(Andrew Harnik | The Associated Press) Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018.

Though a plurality of Utahns say they support the #MeToo movement, a new poll shows that slightly more view it unfavorably now than did back in June — and respondents point to the recent highly politicized Supreme Court confirmation process as a possible reason why.

The new Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics poll found that one year into the #MeToo movement, Utahns are just as likely to support it as they were in the summer, with 44 percent saying they view the movement favorably.

But the number of people who disapprove has grown from 23 percent to 28 percent.

“You have people that have gone from the ‘I don’t know column’ to the ‘unfavorable’ column,” said Morgan Lyon Cotti, associate director of the Hinckley Institute. “And we have seen the #MeToo movement, there’s been a resurgence of it coming back into the news. And whenever this happens, especially when it’s through very politicized events, in general that can just weigh negatively on people’s minds.”

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

The poll was conducted during the same time the Senate was considering and ultimately voted to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. His hearings were marred by allegations of sexual misconduct by three women, and he was confirmed with the lowest vote margin in more than a century, 50-48. Utah’s Republican senators, Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, voted to confirm him.

Kavanaugh was a federal appeals court judge whom Trump nominated to fill the seat of retired Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy. He vehemently denied the allegations, calling them “smears” and a “grotesque and obvious character assassination.”

The hearings set off a bitter partisan divide, reflected in a separate Tribune-Hinckley poll that found Utah voters largely took sides on the hearings based on ideology. Kavanaugh garnered the endorsement of 75 percent of self-identified “very conservative” voters and the opposition of 90 percent of “very liberal” ones.

The poll on the #MeToo movement also found a deep convergence in public perception based on party affiliation, while men and women were generally in agreement.

Just 27 percent of those who self-identified as Republican voters said they view the movement favorably, compared to 86 percent of Democrats. And while 40 percent of the registered voters surveyed say the movement has helped address issues of sexual assault and harassment, Democrats are more likely to believe that’s the case, at 69 percent, compared to Republicans, at 28 percent.

Republicans are the most likely group to believe the movement has led to the unfair treatment of men, with 36 percent expressing that viewpoint compared to 7 percent of Democrats. Unexpectedly, women, at 29 percent, were slightly more likely to believe the movement has been unfair to their male counterparts, than men, who came in at 25 percent.

“Partisanship, almost more than any other demographic factor, shapes how people view the world now,” Cotti said of the numbers.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jane Cunningham Otis holds a sign out to passing cars at a protest against the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh in front of the Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building in Salt Lake City, Thursday Oct. 4, 2018.

A movement ‘taken hostage’ for political gain?

Alan Briggs, a registered Republican in Cache County, said his opinion on the #MeToo movement “really shifted” after the Kavanaugh hearings.

“It’s raised a lot of awareness because it really had a lot of women coming out — and I guess men, too — coming out telling their stories,” he said. “I think there is a very healthy side to that. I just really abhor how it has been almost taken hostage by people for their own political gain.”

David Beck, 69, also said he worries about the demonizing effect the movement has had on men and believes the movement is “all a fraud” paid for by political and ideological interests.

“If you looked at what happened to Judge Kavanaugh, he could have been Jesus Christ and they would have ripped him apart,” the Highland Republican said. “And Jesus Christ is the best judge there is.”

#MeToo, the sweeping social media hashtag that began as a way to demonstrate the scope and frequency of people’s experience with sexual assault, harassment and abuse, resulted in accusations against and the fall from power of at least 71 high-profile men, from Hollywood to the auto industry and from the media to politics and business.

Some have faced criminal consequences. Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood producer whose dozens of sexual assault accusations helped kick-start the #MeToo movement, was fired from his namesake company and arrested in May on rape charges. Bill Cosby, the famous comedian, is serving time in a Pennsylvania state prison after nearly 60 women came forward with accusations of sexual assault.

In other high-profile cases, the accused men have faced few real consequences or permanent loss of stature. Kavanaugh was ultimately confirmed. And comedian Louis C.K., who admitted to sexual misconduct with multiple women, including masturbating in front of them, was back onstage less than a year later.

“I don’t think we’re far enough into this movement to really understand what the impact is going to be on both men and women, on both survivors and those who have perpetrated these acts,” said Laurie Hofmann, the board chairwoman of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

She said it’s important to address changing social dynamics in the wake of the movement, as well as fears of false accusations — but she noted research has shown those are rare, while the problem of underreporting is widespread.

“What I’ve found, and even in my own personal groups, is, you know women are saying, ‘Yes, this happened to me. No, I’ve never spoken out. No, I would never speak out,’” Hofmann said. “And it’s really and truly a fear of not being believed is the reason.”

After the Kavanaugh hearings, women around the country and in Utah took to social media with a new hashtag — #WhyIDidntReport — that aimed to explain the confusion, shame and fear that prevent many women from coming forward about their sexual assaults.

Hofmann said poll results showing a larger number of Utahns viewing #MeToo unfavorably may point to a growing fatigue around the movement, but she hopes that won’t work to silence women further.

“We have to just take a step back and take a collective breath over what happened with the Kavanaugh hearings, but also continue to believe those who are willing to step up and say, ‘This really and truly did happen to me,’” she said. “And I think we still need to find solutions to this problem. This is a problem that has not gone away, and it’s not going to go away.”

The Tribune-Hinckley poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points and a sample size of 607 registered Utah voters. It was conducted Oct. 3 to 9.

Survivors of sexual violence who need help can call the Utah Rape and Sexual Assault Crisis Line at 1-888-421-1100 or the Domestic Violence Link Line at 1-800-897-LINK (5465).