CUREJ - College Undergraduate Research Electronic Journal

Understanding Our Own Cassandra: The Construction of Public Opinion and the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas Hearings

Sonja Li Breda, The University of Pennsylvania

Division: Social Sciences

Dept/Program: Political Science

Document Type: Undergraduate Student Research

Mentor(s): Nancy Hirschmann

Date of this Version: 30 March 2016

 

Abstract

The Senate Judiciary hearings of 1991 held in the wake of allegations that Clarence Thomas, nominated to the Supreme Court by George H.W. Bush, had sexually harassed a woman named Anita Hill captivated the nation. Thomas’s confirmation was eventually postponed in order to allow Dr. Hill an opportunity to testify before the country. Hill’s testimony would prove groundbreaking for women who were victims of sexual harassment in the workplace and usher in the 1992 “Year of the Woman.”

Initially, fast-reaction public opinion polls conducted in the wake of the hearings seemed to show immense support for Clarence Thomas both from the general American public and more specifically from African Americans. Why did the public view Thomas in a much more favorable light than Professor Hill? Why did the American public not believe Hill?

An analysis of 223 articles published during the week of the trial (October 6 –13, 1991) found evidence for bias in media coverage of the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas Hearings. Overall, Thomas received more frequent and more favorable coverage compared to Hill during the period in question. These disparities were found to be greater in regional papers than in national publications and if the story’s author was male. Additionally, two public opinion polls conducted by Gallup during the week of the trial were analyzed using SPSS revealing newfound conclusions. This study analyzes the role persistent media bias might have had in distorting public opinion data and constructing dominant narratives about the hearings.

Discipline(s)

American Politics | Gender and Sexuality | Social Influence and Political Communication

Suggested Citation

Breda, Sonja Li, "Understanding Our Own Cassandra: The Construction of Public Opinion and the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas Hearings" 30 March 2016. CUREJ: College Undergraduate Research Electronic Journal, University of Pennsylvania, https://repository.upenn.edu/curej/198.

Date Posted: 20 June 2016

 

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