Should Justin Fairfax resign? Americans say yes, though sexual harassment viewed as less prevalent

February 21, 2019, 7:00 PM GMT+0

Public opinion is more clearly against Virginia Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax than Governor Ralph Northam

In late 2017, sexual harassment and sexual abuse scandals surrounded many: Democratic Senator Al Franken and Congressman John Conyers, GOP Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, media stars like Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer, and media mogul Harvey Weinstein. At the time, eight in ten Americans in an Economist/YouGov Poll believed sexual harassment was a serious problem in the country. More than half of women (56%) surveyed said it was very serious.

Now, even though stories about sexual harassment are still in the news ‒ most recently with charges against Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax ‒ fewer Americans say the problem is very serious in the US, according to a recent Economist/YouGov Poll. Overall, women are more concerned than men about sexual misconduct, but they appear less concerned than they were in late 2017.

The drop in concern exists when Americans are asked today about sexual harassment in various industries. Fewer today than in 2017 think the problem is “very serious” in areas as diverse as Congress, Hollywood, media and tech companies, and the two political parties. Hollywood remains the worst offender, followed by colleges and media companies. Nearly half say the problem is very serious in Hollywood today ‒ though that percentage has dropped since 2017.

As for the current accusations against the Virginia Lieutenant Governor, Americans generally say now what they have said in earlier circumstances. Those with an opinion believe the women who have accused Fairfax and don’t believe his denial. In short, by more than three to one, they believe Fairfax is probably guilty.

And as for what should happen now, more think he should resign than stay in office.

But Fairfax, who is African-American, isn’t the only Virginia officeholder with a problem. Governor Ralph Northam admitted wearing blackface, though he denied that he was in a racist photograph in his medical school yearbook. Most Americans agree that a white person wearing blackface is unacceptable, but there is a split on whether or not Northam should resign. Opinion is not as clearly against Northam as it is against Fairfax.

That’s because Republicans oppose Northam’s resignation and independents are closely divided. But Democrats would like both men to leave office. The difference may be due to the finding that Republicans are more likely to believe the use of blackface is acceptable. 29% of Republicans say it’s okay (43% of Republicans find blackface unacceptable). Overall just 19% say blackface is acceptable, while 52% reject its use.

Read the full toplines and tables results here

Photo: Getty