Poll: Just a third of Americans see 'major gains' toward women's equality in last year

Democratic women are particularly pessimistic about the long-term fight for gender equality.
Image: Metoo Movement
Victims of sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual abuse and their supporters protest during a #MeToo march in Hollywood on Nov. 12, 2017.Mark Ralston / AFP - Getty Images file

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By Carrie Dann

WASHINGTON — Despite the election of a record number of women to Congress in 2018 and the prominence of the #MeToo anti-harassment movement over the last year, only about a third of Americans say that women have made “major gains” toward achieving equal rights in the last year, a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds. What’s more, Democratic women remain particularly pessimistic about the long-term fight for gender equality.

Just 36 percent of Americans said that women have achieved “major gains” in the last year, while nearly half — 49 percent — characterized any gains made toward women’s equality as “minor.” An additional 14 percent said that the fight for women’s equality has not advanced at all over the last year.

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Americans’ views about the long-term movement for women’s rights have also not significantly shifted during the last three decades. Fewer than half of Americans — 46 percent — now say that women have made major gains toward equality over the past decade. That’s exactly the same share that said women had achieved major gains over the last decade when pollsters for the Merit Report asked the same question in 1982.

Men and women have similar views overall of the progress made (or not made) toward gender equality in just the past year, with just 36 percent of women and 35 percent of men saying that the country has experienced “major” change.

But men tend to be more optimistic than women overall when asked about the last decade of fighting for equal rights. Half of men (50 percent) but just 42 percent of women say that women have made major gains in the last 10 years.

That trend is even more pronounced among older men, with 55 percent of men over 50 describing the last decade as one with “major” advances for women’s rights, while just 42 percent of women under 50 and 41 percent of women over 50 agree.

Democratic women are also markedly less optimistic about the progress made over the last decade.

While around half of Democratic men (55 percent), Republican men (52 percent) and Republican women (49 percent) say that women have made major gains toward achieving equality in the last 10 years, just 36 percent of Democratic women agree. A majority of Democratic women — 59 percent — instead classify any gains made by women in the last decade as just “minor” ones.

The poll of 900 adults was conducted Dec. 9-12, 2018, and has an overall margin of error of +/- 3.27 percentage points.