The polls -- Review: Rush to Judgment? Fast Reaction Polls in the Anita Hill - Clarence Thomas Controversy

Rucinski, Dianne
December 1993
Public Opinion Quarterly;Winter93, Vol. 57 Issue 4, p575
Academic Journal
The nomination and subsequent confirmation of Associate Justice Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court proved to be one of the more controversial issues of 1991. The controversy was due less to Thomas' legal philosophy, or his unwillingness to discuss his legal opinions and beliefs, or his qualifications than to allegations that he sexually harassed Anita Hill, his associate and a Professor of Law at the University of Oklahoma in Norman. The initial portrayal of public opinion by elites and in media discourse was one of consensus: that a majority of the American people, both men and women, believed Thomas's denials of Hill's charges, that African-Americans overwhelmingly rallied behind Thomas after the charges were leveled, and that a majority of the public supported his confirmation. And yet the controversy has continued. A little less than one year after the confirmation vote, three national polls suggested that opinion had shifted from supporting Thomas's version of the truth to supporting Hill's. Recognizing the centrality of polls not only in the initial discussion of Thomas's confirmation but also in the construction of historical arguments about the Hill-Thomas matter, this article examines aspects of the polls and their documentation with an eye to informing the debate. It also provides a glimpse into the workings of polls conducted under enormous time pressure in a highly charged and fluid environment.


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