Politician Joe Biden – who is also an expected Democratic presidential candidate for the 2020 election – has recently come into the media spotlight because of his hugging habit. Former Nevada lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Lucy Flores has claimed that Biden’s embrace made her incredibly uncomfortable, calling into question many of the former Vice Presidents’s public past interactions. As other women have come to the defense of the late Vice President’s exchanges, the discussion on what constitutes sexual harassment has come to the forefront of political debates once more.
The Bucknell Institute of Public Policy (BIPP) wanted to see where the divide is on what American citizens feel defines sexual harassment within the workplace. In a nationally representative survey conducted by YouGov.com, BIPP asked respondents if they believed a male colleague hugging a female colleague without her permission constituted sexual harassment. The survey showed that 35 percent of Democrats and 16 percent of Republicans viewed a male colleague hugging a female colleague without her permission as sexual harassment. When comparing by gender, 44 percent of men and 56 percent of women viewed this action as sexual harassment.
BIPP also asked respondents if they believed a female colleague hugging a male colleague without his permission constituted sexual harassment. The survey showed that 38 percent of Democrats and 25 percent of Republicans believed a female colleague hugging a male colleague without his permission was sexual harassment. In juxtaposition, 41 percent of men and 59 percent of women believed a female colleague hugging a male colleague without his permission constituted sexual harassment.
In the era of #MeToo, where countless individuals have stepped forward to highlight their experiences of sexual harassment within the workforce, it is easy to think that what constitutes sexual harassment is divided along gender lines. From these findings, however, it is evident that whether an individual views an action as sexual harassment is much greater than their gender identity. Partisanship plays a large role in determining whether or not an individual finds an action inappropriate for the workplace. While in both scenarios women were more likely than men to define the interaction as sexual harassment, it should also be noted that in both scenarios Democrats were more likely than Republicans to find the act of hugging a colleague without their permission first as sexual harassment. As we move forward into the 2020 election cycle, it is important to remember that partisan and gendered differences factor into what individuals believe constitutes sexual harassment. Biden may be a microcosm of the discourse that will emerge throughout the 2020 primaries.