Exclusive Poll: Joe Paterno Should Have Called the Police

Americans overwhelmingly agree that Joe Paterno failed to meet his moral duty—and a majority think Herman Cain is guilty, according to a Newsweek/Daily Beast poll on the country’s dueling scandals.

11.14.11 9:45 AM ET

Poll results at a glance:

  • Americans overwhelmingly believe former Penn State coach Joe Paterno should have alerted police as soon as he learned about a potential sexual assault—but they’re split on whether he should have been fired.
  • A majority of poll takers think the sexual harassment charges against Herman Cain are true—and 39 percent think he’s handling them poorly.
  • A majority of respondents said they definitely wouldn’t vote for a presidential candidate proven to have sexually harassed employees.

A new Newsweek/Daily Beast poll reveals that there’s a broad-based consensus among the American public that former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno should have alerted the police when he learned of the assault allegation against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky in 2002—and that he had a moral responsibility to do more than just report the claim to university administrators. Yet the public is divided when it comes to Penn State’s Board of Trustees’ decision to fire Paterno for failing to do so.

In a Douglas E Schoen LLC Sexual Harassment survey of 400 Americans conducted on November 9, in the hours leading up to Paterno’s resignation, survey respondents agreed that the once-revered coach should have gone to the police when he learned of the allegation by an overwhelming 79 to 9 percent margin—and two thirds (68 percent) said he had a moral obligation to do so. However, only 44 to 31 percent of respondents called for Paterno’s immediate resignation.

Is Herman Cain Toast?

Turning to the GOP primary field, the results of our poll—conducted a few days after Sharon Bialek went public with sexual-harassment allegations against Herman Cain at a press conference—indicate that the allegations may ultimately undermine his candidacy as we get closer to the actual primaries.

Overall, voters think the sexual harassment allegations against Cain are true, 53 to 24 percent. Democrats feel they are true very strongly, 73 to 12 percent, while Republicans are divided, with 37 percent saying they are true and 33 percent saying they are untrue.  Independents say they are true, 46 to 27 percent.

The poll also found that a plurality of respondents (39 percent) think he’s done a bad job handling the charges brought against him. Democrats and Independents agree with this statement, 55 to 13 percent and 35 to 18 percent respectively. Republicans are split, with 28 percent saying he’s done a bad job and 27 percent saying he’s done a good job.

That said, poll takers were skeptical of Bialek’s claims that Cain sexually harassed her. By 35 to 27 percent, voters say Bialek is just trying to get a payday or publicity and isn’t a victim of sexual harassment. Republicans and Independents agree, 44 to 18 percent and 37 to 23 percent. Democrats believe she was a victim of sexual harassment, 38 to 26 percent.

Similarly, there is a palpable degree of uncertainty when it comes to the validity of sexual harassment claims in general. A majority of voters—Democrat, Republican and Independent alike—said that when a person comes forward with a sexual harassment claim, they’re not sure whether or not the claim is true. 

Meanwhile, Democrats are evenly divided at 32 percent as to whether men are treated fairly when accused of sexual harassment. Forty-seven percent of Republicans and Independents say they are treated unfairly, while 28 percent of Republicans and 26 percent of Independents say they are treated fairly.

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Can a Candidate With a History of Harassment Win?

Generally speaking, a solid majority (57 percent) of all respondents said they definitely wouldn’t vote for a candidate for president who was proven to have sexually-harassed employees—a position shared by a majority of Republicans. And nearly three quarters of respondents said they care if a public figure is accused of harassment if he or she is otherwise doing a good job, while one quarter (24 percent) do not care.

That said, voters are far more concerned about a presidential candidate’s policy positions (58 percent) and level of government experience (25 percent) than their past sexual conduct (6 percent).

How’s the Media Doing?

Voters across the board believe that the media plays a large role in raising awareness of sexual harassment—Republicans most strongly, with 88 percent agreeing with this statement. Seventy-four percent of Democrats and 70 percent of Independents agree.

While voters overall are split, 38 to 37 percent, on whether the media should protect the names of alleged victims of sexual harassment who accuse politicians, their opinions are split by party. Democrats say the names of the victims should be concealed by a margin of 45 to 33 percent, while Republicans say their names should be revealed, 42 to 33 percent.

Likewise, voters are split by party as to whether sexual harassment is overreported or underreported. Democrats say it’s underreported, 45 to 32 percent. Republicans say it’s overreported by a greater margin, 47 to 23 percent. Consistent with this finding, Democrats say by 42 to 6 percent that if a person comes forward with a sexual-harassment allegation, it is likely to be true. Meanwhile, Republicans say it is likely to be true by 26 to 15 percent, with 59 percent unsure.