This week Joe Biden is expected to launch an official campaign for the presidency and once he does, the media will continue to swarm with commentary over the allegations against him of inappropriate touching and what that could mean for the future of his candidacy.
However, as the media continues to speculate, the allegations are not changing how women, a key constituency, are feeling about Biden. New polling out of key early states of New Hampshire and Iowa show that his high polling in the crowded Democratic field is powered by women. Despite the fact that there are six female candidates in the race and allegations he inappropriately touched women, Biden sits atop the Democratic primary contest because of support from females.
As a female, I believe the #MeToo movement has been a great platform for women to come forward and share their stories as well as empower them to speak out against their harassers and assaulters. Each day it seems we wake up to more stories of awful sexual harassment and assault allegations regarding the despicable behavior of some of the most powerful men in the country in entertainment, politics and the corporate world. It’s a sad reality that women have been experiencing for years but an issue that has been swept under the rug out of fear of further harassment, shame, or retaliation. However, in this era of #MeToo we also need to recognize that there are two sides to every story and we need to hear both sides before jumping to conclusions. And that seems to be resonating with female voters.
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In the wake of the allegations, Biden responded very tactfully and respectfully, saying, “In my many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort. And not once — never — did I believe I acted inappropriately. If it is suggested I did so, I will listen respectfully. But it was never my intention.”
Biden, who is extremely likable and known for his affectionate and jovial demeanor, acknowledged the allegations against him and respectfully listened. Let’s be clear and recognize that there is a difference between predatory behavior and affectionate behavior and that women (and men) know the difference between the two.
Everyone likes Joe
Biden’s female support isn’t just happening in early states, it’s happening nationally too. A new Morning Consult poll shows Biden as the top selection among female Democratic voters. In fact, 34% say he is their first choice even though 47% of those women who were polled said they had heard a lot about the allegations of him touching women.
What’s more, a Quinnipiac poll that surveyed California voters found the same trend — 67% of women voters said the issue of Biden’s inappropriate touching is “not serious” to them and still believe he is the best chance to beat Donald Trump. The poll also showed that 31% of voters believed he would be the best leader followed by Sanders at a distant 18%.
When it comes to Biden’s likability, he soars among almost every demographic and is viewed positively by eight in 10 Democrats and one in three Republicans — showing his unique ability to transcend partisan politics. However, Biden also sits atop all the potential 2020 candidates as the candidate with the highest favorability rating, according to Gallup polling, with Sen. Bernie Sanders a close second.
With his high favorability and his spot as the potential Democratic frontrunner if he enters the race, he bears the responsibility of addressing these issues head on. The #MeToo movement cannot be silenced or ignored in the 2020 campaign as these issues have now come to light. Biden has a long history on tackling the problem of sexual assault as the author and champion of the Violence Against Women Act in 1990.
But he didn’t stop there. When he served as vice president, he worked with college campuses to address the issue. And after leaving office he wrote an op-ed on changing the culture around sexual assault. Biden has a long history of being a fierce advocate for women and for opening a respectful debate and dialogue around sexual assault.
It is important for not just 2020 candidates but Americans to understand the time we are living in and to work together to find solutions to address issues of domestic and sexual violence and harassment in the workplace.
In order to be champions of our gender and to work to create positive change around sexual assault, we must acknowledge that there are differences between predatory and affectionate actions — and that we should never be made to feel uncomfortable and should speak up when we feel that way. However, those who are accused also have the right to speak up, and the right to be heard.
Ashley Pratte is a political commentator and communications strategist who previously served as director of media relations and public affairs at the American Legislative Exchange Council and as director of media relations and a consultant for Better For America. She serves on the board of Republican Women for Progress. Follow her on Twitter: @AshPratte
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Joe Biden's 'inappropriate touching' sure hasn't hurt his support among women