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’ 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?

This study argues that a narrative was constructed that the American public believed Thomas and disbelieved Hill, which was furthered by biased journalism that undermined Hill’s testimony and bolstered Thomas’ testimony and the distortion of public opinion data. Analysis of 223 articles published during the week of the trial (October 6th-13th 1991) found evidence for bias in favor of Thomas and the discrediting of Hill. Additionally, 2 public opinion polls conducted by Gallup during the week of the trial were analyzed on SPSS with newfound conclusions.

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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