Added: August 6, 2016 – Last updated: August 6, 2016


Author: Sonja (Li) Breda

Title: Understanding Our Own Cassandra

Subtitle: The Construction of Public Opinion and the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas Hearings

Thesis: B.A. Thesis, University of Pennsylvania

Advisor: Nancy Hirschmann

Year: March 2016

Pages: 82pp.

Language: English

Keywords: Modern History: 20th Century | American History: U.S. History | Cases: Offenders / Clarence Thomas; Cases: Victims Anita Hill; Types: Sexual Harassment


Links: ScholarlyCommons: Digital Repository of the University of Pennsylvania (Free Access)



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.« (Source: Thesis)


  Author’s Note (p. 1)
  Chapter I: The Puzzle (p. 3)
  Introduction (p. 3)
  Research Methodology (p. 11)
    Part 1: Analysis of General Media Coverage (p. 11)
    Part 2: Analysis of Media Coverage regarding American Public Opinion (p. 13)
  Chapter II: Theoretical Approaches (p. 13)
  Overview: The Quest To Accurately Access Public Opinion (p. 13)
  Public Opinion as A Threat To Democracy (p. 18)
  Chapter III: Public Opinion on Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas Hearings (p. 22)
  Overview (p. 22)
  Media Response (p. 26)
  Public Opinion Response (p. 27)
  Chapter IV: The Hypothesis, Causal Mechanisms (p. 29)
  Part 1 Hypothesis (p. 29)
  Part 1: Results (p. 31)
    Hypothesis 1: Results (p. 31)
    Hypothesis 2 Results (p. 34)
    Hypothesis 3 Results (p. 39)
    Hypothesis 4 Results (p. 40)
    Conclusion (p. 42)
  Part 2: Hypothesis (p. 42)
  Part 2: Results (p. 43)
    Claim 1 Analysis (p. 43)
    Claim 2 Analysis (p. 47)
    Claim 3 Analysis (p. 50)
    Conclusion (p. 52)
  Chapter V: Conclusion and Implications (p. 54)
  Summary of Findings (p. 54)
  Influence of Public Opinion on the Confirmation (p. 56)
  Appendix I: Supplementary Images (p. 60)
  Appendix II: Coding (p. 64)
  Bibliography (p. 74)

Wikipedia: History of the Americas: History of the United States / History of the United States (1991–present) | Sex and the law: Sexual harassment / Clarence Thomas, Anita Hill