The country is in the middle of a national reckoning. It feels like the structures that enabled (mostly) men to sexually harass and assault others with no consequences are crumbling down, taking with them those in power who previously seemed untouchable.
But no other situation has exemplified the tension between the pre- and post-Weinstein world as the Alabama special election. At least eight women have credibly accused Republican candidate Roy Moore of sexual misconduct, including pursuing relationships with them when they were teens and he was a man in his 30s.
The parallels to the 53% of white women who supported Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election are hard to miss. (Some of Moore's accusers are Republican women who voted for Trump.)
For Melissa Deckman, Louis L. Goldstein professor of Public Affairs and chair of the Political Science Department at Washington College, it's not only that there are similitudes: According to Deckman, Trump surviving the "grab them by the pussy" Access Hollywood tape and a barrage of sexual misconduct allegations paved the way for Moore.
"After many religious conservatives opted to elect Donald Trump given his personal, moral failings, it is likely to be easier to countenance that sort of logic from their perspective," she told Refinery29.
Deckman — who has long studied the intersection of gender, politics, and religion — divides Moore's supporters in two camps. First, there's those who don't believe the allegations and think there's a bigger conspiracy at play that involves the media, the Republican establishment, and others. According to her, this camp believes the charges are "part of a larger cultural war against righteous defenders of conservative Christianity."
Moore has denied all allegations and has positioned himself as a "godly man" who is being persecuted because of his faith, so it makes sense that conservative Evangelical female voters might see the accusations that have been raised against him as persecution, too.
"Academic studies show that women tend to be more devout than men across all major denominations and religious traditions," she said. "So, women are more likely to be 'true believers' compared [to] men."
Combine that with the anxieties over social issues — such as same-sex marriage, immigration, and religious liberty — and Moore looks like the right candidate for the second camp of supporters. "There are those who might even acknowledge that Moore's accusers have some legitimacy, but who still are willing to back him because, well, they support his policies," according to Deckman. "For them, the policies he espouses are righteous so we have come to a place in our politics where the ends appear to justify the means."
Abortion in particular has been one of the policy issues that the Moore campaign has consistently discussed. Moore's spokeswoman Janet Porter fleshed out this narrative during a contentious interview with CNN's Poppy Harlow earlier this week. She told Harlow, who is pregnant: "[Moore] stands for the rights of babies like yours in the womb, where his opponent will support killing them until the moment of birth."
This claim is false. Even though Democrat Doug Jones is pro-choice, he's made clear that he supports Alabama's current laws, which ban most late-term abortions. But the Moore camp has stuck to this narrative because it's useful to them: About 58% of Alabamians believe that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, according to a 2014 study by the Pew Research Center. The same report found that 51% of those who think that are women.
For Deckman, another reason why many women in Alabama seem not to pay attention to the sexual misconduct accusations is because the issues that matter to them differ greatly from issues that seem important to the left-leaning or progressive female bloc.
"While most conservative women would certainly acknowledge that sexual harassment or assault are not good things, they are less likely to view these things as systematic issues that require more government regulation, whereas progressive women look at these issues as pivotal and more salient," she said.
But the support for Moore is not universal and there's been pushback from certain conservative groups in the state. For example, in mid-November the Young Republican Federation of Alabama voted to suspend their support until the candidate could disprove the allegations. "I've never felt the inner turmoil I feel over this," Jackie Curtiss, the chair of the YRFA, told NBC News at the time. "At some point, decency comes before politics." (Some chapters broke from the state group and drafted resolutions backing Moore.)
It has yet to be seen what percentage of the female bloc will support Moore on Tuesday, and what the demographic makeup of that vote will be. But polls show at the moment that the race will be close — though Moore certainly has the advantage as of now.
President Trump has forcefully thrown all his support behind Moore, despite the allegations. For Beverly Young Nelson, who accused Moore of sexually assaulting her when she was 16, Trump's support hurts given that she voted for him in 2016.
"I am a Republican who supported Mr. Trump for president. I did so because I thought he cared about people like me. I am very disappointed that I was wrong," she said at a press conference Friday. "I guess we as women don't matter because we are not part of the ol' boys club."
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