Poll Results: Sexual Harassment in the Workplace


Concern about sexual harassment of women in the workplace has grown over the last three decades, but Americans do not think sexual harassment at work is inevitable, according to an exclusive Third Rail with OZY/Marist Poll.


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Most Americans (87%) consider sexual harassment to be a problem in the workplace. And, while there is a divide about the severity of the issue, the proportion of residents who think sexual harassment is a big problem has more than doubled over the last thirty years. 42% of U.S. residents, up from 17% in a 1986 Time/Yankelovich Clancy Shulman Poll, say sexual harassment is a big problem. 45% report it is somewhat of a problem, and 11% believe it is not a problem at all. 

There is a gender gap. Men (16%) are nearly three times as likely as women (6%) to say that there is no problem regarding workplace sexual harassment. Other differences fall along racial, age, and partisan lines. Non-white residents (52%), residents under 45 years of age (50%), and Democrats (53%) are more likely than white residents (36%), those age 45 or older (36%), and Republicans (31%) to perceive sexual harassment to be a big problem. By four to one, Republicans (24%) are more likely than Democrats (6%) to say sexual harassment is not an issue.


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When it comes to defining the issue, 74% of Americans consider sexual harassment to be sexual abuse. 24% disagree with that characterization.  Democrats (80%) are more likely than Republicans (66%) to describe sexual harassment as sexual abuse. One in three Republicans (33%), compared with 19% of Democrats, do not consider sexual harassment to be abuse.   

Many Americans (60%) disagree that what some women perceive to be sexual harassment is actually just innocent flirting intended as flattery. More than three in ten (32%) agree with the statement.  Regardless of most demographic groups, at least a majority of residents disagree with the statement that these actions are meant as flirtations.    



Americans perceive workplace sexual harassment to be a problem which can be overcome, and they place the responsibility for eliminating it on business. Nearly seven in ten residents nationally (69%) disagree with the idea that sexual harassment is inevitable. 27% say it is a fact of life.  Regardless of demographic group, more than six in ten residents nationally think sexual harassment is preventable. Though, white Americans (73%) are more likely than non-white residents, 62%, to have this view.    


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Nearly two-thirds of U.S. residents (65%) believe it is the responsibility of companies to prevent or solve the problem of sexual harassment. However, 28% think it is the responsibility of the individuals involved to prevent or solve the issue.  Men and women differ on this question. While 73% of women believe it is up to their company to guard against sexual harassment, fewer men, 56%, share this opinion.      

When it comes to perceptions of men and women in the workplace, a majority of Americans (57%) say men often resent women who have more power than they do while 39% believe men do not. A sharp gender gap exists. 71% of women say men resent women with more authority while 54% of men say they do not.  Partisan differences are also present. 66% of Democrats and 53% of independents report men resent women with more power. Republicans divide, 47% to 46%.

Two-thirds of Americans (67%) disagree that women under pressure in the workplace are weaker and more emotional than men. 31%, though, think this is the case. Non-white Americans (41%) and men (36%) are more likely than white residents (25%) and women (26%) to consider women to be weaker and more emotional when faced with pressure in the workplace. 

More than six in ten residents (62%) disagree that men are easier to get along with than women in the workplace. One in three Americans (33%) do think men are the easier sex with whom to work.  Women (39%) are more likely than men (26%) to say they get along better with men than women at work.    

Has marriage become obsolete? While a majority of Americans (52%) think marriage is still a relevant institution, the proportion of Americans who no longer see a need for it has increased over the last forty years.  45% of U.S. residents, up from 28% in a 1978 Time/Yankelovich, Skelly, & White poll, think marriage is no longer an important social institution. 


This survey of 508 adults was conducted September 19th and September 20th, 2017 by The Marist Poll sponsored and funded in partnership with WGBH Boston and OZY Media for the new PBS prime-time, cross-platform debate program Third Rail with OZY. Adults 18 years of age and older residing in the contiguous United States were contacted on landline or mobile numbers and interviewed in English by telephone using live interviewers. Mobile telephone numbers were randomly selected based upon a list of telephone exchanges from throughout the nation from Survey Sampling International. The exchanges were selected to ensure that each region was represented in proportion to its population. Mobile phones are treated as individual devices. After validation of age, personal ownership, and non-business- use of the mobile phone, interviews are typically conducted with the person answering the phone. To increase coverage, this mobile sample was supplemented by respondents reached through random dialing of landline phone numbers from ASDE Survey Sampler, Inc. Within each landline household, a single respondent is selected through a random selection process to increase the representativeness of traditionally under-covered survey populations. Assistance was provided by Luce Research for data collection. The samples were then combined and balanced to reflect the 2013 American Community Survey 1-year estimates for age, gender, income, race, and region. Results are statistically significant within ±4.3 percentage points. There are 429 registered voters. The results for this subset are statistically significant within ±4.7 percentage points. The error margin was not adjusted for sample weights and increases for cross-tabulations. See full poll results »

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