A majority of voters in the state believe Al Franken groped or sexually harassed multiple women, but more voters believe he should not have resigned from the U.S. Senate than those who think he should have, according to a new Star Tribune Minnesota Poll.
Franken resigned his seat earlier this month following a string of sexual harassment allegations by more than a half dozen women. In most cases he did not directly deny the allegations but said he remembered some of the incidents differently or didn’t remember them at all. Franken stepped down following demands he do so by other Democratic senators; he said he felt he could no longer be effective.
Sixty percent of the 800 registered voters statewide who participated in the poll said they believed that Franken did grope or harass multiple women. But only 41 percent said he should have resigned, while 48 percent said he should not have. The rest, 11 percent, were unsure. The poll was taken Jan. 8-10 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
“I really admire Al Franken but I believe the women,” said Rachel Parker of Minneapolis. She was sad to see him go, but Parker, a 71-year-old retiree, said resigning “was the only thing he could do to adhere to his principles. One of the things I liked about him as a politician was his record on women’s issues and children’s issues and if he hadn’t resigned, I would feel very, very disappointed.”
Matt Dunn, a 41-year-old health care worker from Medina, leans independent-to-conservative. But he wishes Franken had the opportunity to face and respond to the allegations before the Senate Ethics Committee.
“I was not a huge supporter of Franken, but I will say, I feel like due process wasn’t necessarily provided for him,” said Dunn, who usually votes for Republicans but said he has also voted for Minnesota’s other Democratic senator, Amy Klobuchar. Still, he said, “I knew after the allegations were made, that was the end of his political career.”
Franken was a popular figure among state and national Democrats before he became one of the most prominent people toppled by a national backlash against powerful men who allegedly used their positions to demean and harass women. He did not respond to a request for comment on the Minnesota Poll findings.
Despite the allegations, 68 percent of Minnesota Democrats and a third of Republican voters said he should not have resigned.
“I don’t think he intentionally meant to violate those women and I think he’s done a good job as a senator,” said Barbara Schmitt, a 69-year-old retiree from Wayzata. “I think he’s contributed a lot. I think he has a good heart and I was just sorry to see him resign. I also think he was kind of railroaded into it.”
Schmitt said that Franken’s behavior didn’t meet her definition of sexual harassment and that she didn’t think it demanded his resignation. But she did view it as inappropriate. “He shouldn’t be touching women on their behinds or in areas of their body where you’re generally not touching people,” she said.
Melanie Hagge didn’t vote for Franken the first time he ran for Senate, but by the time he was up for re-election in 2014, she felt he had earned her vote. But Hagge, a 40-year-old copy editor from Robbinsdale, does wonder whether his behavior should have cost him his seat.
“I feel like he’s been made an example of and maybe that’s not necessarily totally appropriate,” she said. “I don’t approve of the behavior, but I don’t necessarily think it should have been career-ending in this case.”
Franken, whose statewide approval rating reached 58 percent in last April’s Minnesota Poll, had offered to submit to a Senate ethics investigation into his actions. But when a seventh woman came forward with an accusation in December and his Democratic colleagues began calling for his resignation, he took to the Senate floor to say that he could no longer serve effectively as a senator. He was replaced by Tina Smith, the former Minnesota lieutenant governor, and a special election will be held for his seat in November.
“At the end of the day I support the decision for him to resign,” said Dunn, of Medina. “He is a representation of the people of Minnesota. It was the best decision for him to step aside and to allow for the people to decide this … in the election.”
Support for Franken’s decision to resign was higher in outstate Minnesota: 51 percent of residents in the northern part of the state and 47 percent in southern Minnesota said it was the proper response. That dropped to 37 percent support for the decision in Hennepin and Ramsey counties, and 37 percent in the other Twin Cities suburbs.
Susan Adamson said she was glad that Franken resigned, saying his “filthy language” as a comedian revealed his attitude toward women. She was offended by the photo of Franken putting his hands over the breasts of radio personality Leeann Tweeden, his first accuser.
“I just think that kind of behavior is indicative of the kind of person he is,” said Adamson, 70, of Nashwauk. “It would just be so nice if our society and politicians were trying to raise the level of language and behavior,” she added.
Just 17 percent of Minnesotans said they thought Franken had not harassed women, while almost a quarter were unsure. Even among Democrats, only 21 percent said they believed he had not groped women.
Men were more likely than women to say Franken was guilty of groping or harassing multiple women, by a margin of 65 percent to 56 percent. More than 70 percent of Republicans believed it, and 45 percent of Democrats.
While some of the allegations against Franken were made anonymously, some were bolstered by things like the Tweeden photo, or a 2010 Facebook post from a woman who said she had been “molested” by the senator at the Minnesota State Fair. The majority of voters, across age, income, education and regions of the state, said they believed the allegations.
How the poll was conducted
Still, just 21 percent of Democrats wanted to see him go. Franken was a deeply unpopular figure among Minnesota Republicans — his GOP approval rating hovered at 26 percent last April — but 33 percent of Republican voters said he should not have resigned, while 54 percent said he should have quit.
“I’m sad to see him go,” said Richard Anderson, 72, of Ogilvie, who thought Franken represented the state and its values well, even though he didn’t condone Franken’s alleged behavior.
“Honestly, I would like to have seen a little bit more justice there,” he added. “It doesn’t matter if it’s Al Franken or Roy Moore or the president or Garrison Keillor. … You don’t get tried in the press and convicted without due process.”