The Trump Exoneration Lie

The 2016 election did not absolve Donald Trump of sexual assault.

Donald Trump and fans in Pensacola, Florida
President Donald Trump waves as fake snow falls as he ends a rally on Dec. 8 in Pensacola, Florida.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

As one politician after another resigns in the face of sexual harassment allegations, one man remains standing: Donald Trump. Despite detailed accusations by multiple women, backed up by Trump’s recorded boasts of groping women without their consent, he insists his accusers’ stories are “fabricated.” In fact, says the White House, voters have acquitted Trump. On Dec. 11, after several women described how Trump had abused them, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders brushed them aside:

The president has addressed these accusations directly and denied all of these allegations. And this took place long before he was elected to be president. And the people of this country, at a decisive election, supported President Trump. And we feel like these allegations have been answered through that process.

Sanders routinely implies that the people who voted for Trump were affirming his innocence. But they weren’t. What Americans thought of the allegations against Trump in 2016, and what they think about them now, are knowable questions. Voters suspected Trump was guilty. They still do. They want an investigation. And if it confirms the accusations, they want him expelled from office.

In October 2016, a Fox News poll asked: “Who do you think is lying—Donald Trump or the women accusing him of inappropriate behavior?” Fifty-one percent of voters said Trump was lying. Only 23 percent said the women were lying. Pluralities of white men and white non-college voters agreed that Trump, not the women, was the liar.

Most surveys framed the question in terms of “advances.” A Washington Post/ABC News poll asked: “Do you think Trump probably has or has not made unwanted sexual advances toward women?” Sixty-eight percent of registered voters said Trump had; 14 percent said he hadn’t. Republicans agreed, 48 percent to 23 percent. So did men (65 percent to 14 percent) and white evangelical Protestants (50 percent to 18 percent). A Monmouth survey asked about “allegations that Donald Trump made unwanted advances on different women.” Sixty-two percent of registered voters, including a majority in red states, said the allegations were definitely or probably true. A Quinnipiac poll asked about women’s allegations that Trump had “groped or made inappropriate sexual advances toward them without their consent.” Likely voters said by a 20 percentage point margin, 51 percent to 31 percent, that they believed the allegations.

Even when the question was framed in terms of assault, the public said Trump was guilty. In October 2016, a Reuters/Ipsos survey asked Americans whether they agreed with the statement: “I believe Donald Trump has committed sexual assault in the past.” Sixty-three percent of adults, including 34 percent of likely Republican voters, endorsed that statement.

Two pollsters broke down their findings by presidential preference, confirming that many people who planned to vote for Trump were doing so despite their belief in his guilt. A Suffolk poll asked about women who “accuse Donald Trump of unwelcome sexual advances.” Thirty-three percent of likely voters said the women were lying, but 51 percent, including 12 percent of Trump voters, said they were telling the truth. An Associated Press survey asked: “Do you think Donald Trump probably has or has not kissed and groped women without their consent?” Seventy-two percent of voters, including 35 percent of Trump voters, said he probably had.

The Election Day exit poll didn’t ask about these allegations. But it did ask: “Does Donald Trump’s treatment of women bother you?” Seventy percent of voters said yes. Trump won because 29 percent of these people voted for him anyway. Why did they do that? Because they preferred Trump to Hillary Clinton. As one female Trump voter explained in an interview after the Reuters poll: “I’m embarrassed that our country can’t come up with better candidates.”

That’s all you can deduce from 2016: A nonplurality of voters, in a set of states comprising an electoral majority, preferred Trump to Clinton as president. They did so despite believing he was guilty of sexual assault.

And that belief hasn’t changed. Look at this month’s polls. From Dec. 8–11, a Politico/Morning Consult survey asked whether the “sexual misconduct allegations” against Trump were “credible or not credible.” Twenty-nine percent of registered voters said they weren’t credible, but 50 percent said they were. Even respondents who said they had voted for Trump in 2016 marginally agreed (39 percent to 37 percent) that the allegations were credible. From Dec. 10–12, an Economist/YouGov poll asked voters whether Trump “actually did the things he describes” on the 2005 audio recording in which he bragged about groping women. Fifty-one percent of voters said he definitely or probably had; only 22 percent said he definitely or probably hadn’t. Among respondents who said they had voted for Trump, 47 percent said he definitely or probably hadn’t done what he boasted about on the tape, but 22 percent said he definitely or probably had, and another 31 percent said they weren’t sure.

Half the country, if not more, thinks Trump should resign over this issue right now. In a Public Policy Polling survey taken last week, 53 percent of voters said Trump “should resign” because of “allegations of sexual harassment.” In a Quinnipiac survey taken Dec. 13–18, a plurality (50 percent to 46 percent) agreed. And despite having elected Trump over Clinton, voters definitely want him booted from office if the charges are true. Last month, Quinnipiac asked: “If it is proven true that President Trump sexually harassed this or any other woman, do you think he should be impeached and removed from office or not?” Sixty-one percent of voters, including 56 percent of men and 52 percent of whites, said yes. That’s an increase from the 54 percent who said earlier in the poll that Trump was unfit for office, suggesting that harassment adds to the constituency for impeachment.

What’s certain, for now, is that the public wants an investigation. In a poll completed weeks ago, Quinnipiac asked: “Do you think Congress should investigate the accusations of sexual harassment against President Trump, or not?” Seventy percent of Americans, including 70 percent of Southerners, 66 percent of men, and 66 percent of whites, said yes.

So don’t fall for the White House line that voters, by electing Trump, cleared him of sexual harassment or signaled that they didn’t care about it. Read what voters actually said. They suspected Trump was guilty. They still do. They want an investigation. And if the allegations are confirmed, they want him out.