Political Partisanship and Responses to Sexual Harassment Allegations against Politicians


This preliminary study aimed to examine whether participants’ political party affiliation would affect the perceived legitimacy of sexual misconduct allegations against partisan-aligned and non-aligned political candidates. Three hundred and ninety three participants were recruited for this study. After excluding participants based on study criteria (correctly responding to at least one out of three manipulation check items, and identifying as an independent), 341 participants remained. These participants (Democratic and Republican affiliates) were randomly allocated to one of three conditions (Democratic, Republican, and non-affiliated politician accused groups) where they read a fictitious news story describing a sexual misconduct allegation made by a female staffer against a male politician. They were then asked to rate the perceived legitimacy of the allegation in the story. Findings indicate that participants were no more likely to find the allegations to be legitimate depending on whether the allegation was directed at a party-congruent (participant affiliation matching politician affiliation) or party-incongruent politician (participant affiliation does not match politician affiliation). However, when the unaffiliated politician condition was removed from the analysis for exploratory purposes, Republican, but not Democratic affiliates were more likely to perceive a sexual misconduct allegation against a Democrat as more legitimate than against a Republican. Although no partisanship effect existed for Democratic affiliates, Democratic females perceived the allegation as more legitimate than Democratic males. These findings suggest that Republicans but not Democrats may engage in partisan-motivated reasoning at least in the domain of sexual misconduct allegations against Republican politicians.