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Anita Hill’s accusations did not hurt public support for Clarence Thomas in ’91

Posted at 2:27 PM, Sep 17, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-17 21:10:18-04

In July 1991, more than half of Americans — 52% — said they would like to see the Senate vote in favor of Clarence Thomas serving on the Supreme Court, with 17% who said they would not want them to vote in favor, according to a Gallup/CNN poll.

Months later, after Anita Hill accused the judge of sexual harassment and testified about it on Capitol Hill, the number who said the Senate should vote to confirm had grown, with 58% who said yes, according to a Gallup poll. After his confirmation, in an ABC News / Washington Post poll, 62% of Americans said Thomas should have been confirmed compared to 34% who said he should not. More Americans told Gallup they believed Thomas — 48% — than Hill — 29% — after her testimony.

On Sunday, Christine Blasey Ford accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault when the two were in high school. It’s not yet clear if allegations by Ford will lead to new hearings for Kavanaugh as Hill’s did for Thomas nearly 27 years ago.

Those looking to how the public received Hill’s accusations against Thomas in hopes that Kavanaugh will still prevail may see a good sign in that the percentage of Americans supporting his nomination did not drop after Hill’s allegations and testimony. But, his “don’t confirm” number did go up, which could tip those who are undecided about Kavanaugh over the edge and put his “don’t confirm” up higher than his “confirm.”

Last week, a CNN poll conducted by SSRS was released showing a split in those who want the Senate to confirm Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court — with 38% who said yes vote in favor and 39% who said no, don’t vote in favor.

Almost a quarter — 23% — didn’t know whether the Senate should vote to confirm Kavanaugh, slightly fewer than “didn’t know” about Thomas in July (pre-Hill accusations) — 31%. Part of that 31% broke bad for Clarence, with some of them moving toward saying the Senate shouldn’t confirm him.

Something to remember, though, the public doesn’t confirm Supreme Court justices, Congress does. And Congress doesn’t always do what the people want.

Also, while Hill’s testimony did not derail Thomas’s nomination, it has become a key moment in American political history and a turning point for how allegations of sexual harassment are received in the workplace.

Backlash to Hill’s treatment by then all-male Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991 is widely accepted to have helped usher in the so-called “Year of the Woman” in 1992, when the number of women in the Senate doubled from two to four. Today there are four women on the Senate Judiciary Committee and 23 in the Senate. A record number have qualified for ballots in November.

The current political environment, obviously, after the #MeToo movement, is very different from what Hill encountered in 1991.