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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Will Trump’s Sexual Assault Verdict Secure His Defeat?

Norman L Eisen and Ryan Goodman explain “Why the Sexual Assault Verdict Is Actually Bad News for Trump Politically” at Slate:

The unanimous jury verdict on Tuesday that has turned Donald Trump from an alleged sexual assaulter into a proven one may create political shock waves if recent history is any guide. As numerous empirical studies have shown, the American public has come to view sexual assault as a form of abusing power that can disqualify a perpetrator from holding public office. Trump may suffer significant political damage from this new majoritarian understanding.

In November 2017, 61 percent of voters—including 56 percent of men and a nontrivial margin of white men (50–43) and white women (55–37)—said President Trump should be impeached and removed from office if he were proven to have engaged in “sexual harassment,” according to a Quinnipiac poll. That overall support—the eye-popping number of 61 percent—was higher than any poll tracking public support for impeachment and removal from office for the scandalous conduct in Trump’s first and second impeachments. (See FiveThirtyEight’s complete collection of surveys for the first and second impeachment.) What’s more, Quinnipiac asked only about sexual harassment, not sexual assault, in the case of Trump. The latter, which is also the core crime in the E. Jean Carroll verdict, would have presumably produced even greater levels of support for removal from office.

The Quinnipiac poll was not alone.

A December 2017 Public Policy Polling survey found that 53 percent of voters thought Trump should resign because of the “allegations” of sexual harassment against him, and another Quinnipiac poll in December 2017 found that 50 percent of voters already thought Trump should resign because he had “been accused of sexual harassment and sexual assault by multiple women.”

These results are no surprise when taken in context of recent social science studies. Rigorous empirical research shows that Americans generally consider sexual assault incompatible with serving in elected office or positions of public trust (see, e.g., Savani and Collignon, 2023Stark and Collignon, 2022Masuoka, Grose & Junn, 2021Craig and Cossette, 2020). A 2020 study in the journal Political Behavior found that “(1) a significant electoral penalty is likely to be assessed against politicians accused of sexual harassment; (2) the size of that penalty (in terms of lost votes and lower favorability) … is concentrated among co-partisans and, to a lesser extent, Independents.” That study, like many others, concerned “accusations” and “allegations” of misbehavior; the results are likely to be even more pronounced in the event of allegations being proveb—especially in a court and especially by a unanimous verdict.

Eisen and Goodman cite several “caveats and qualifications.” and then write that “It is notable, however, that a candidate’s having engaged in sexual assault has in many instances proven fatal to their holding public office.” According to the aforementioned source:

In the most exhaustive accounting of its kind to date, this study shows that a total of at least 138 government officials in both elected and appointed positions, have been publicly reported for sexual harassment, assault, misconduct, or violence against women since the 2016 election. These include all allegations of sex-related misconduct reported in national, state, and local media.

A large majority of these officials – 104 of them, or 75 percent — have left or been ousted from their positions. After this week’s midterm election, 34, at most, will remain in office by January 2019. One elected official’s close race is pending a recount.

So, the question arises, is Trump an exception who can be elected, following a verdict holding him responsible for sexual assault? Time and again, Trump has demonstrated a shocking immunity from public condemnation for behavior that would ruin the careers of most people. But a jury verdict is more of a problem than a host of allegations.

At the very least, however, it’s another dollop of kerosene on the Republican dumpster fire, and with all of Trump’s legal problems still to come, it can get a lot worse.

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