By Robert Schlesinger |
To be sure, like the Tea Party movement, Occupy Wall Street is an expression of frustration that our democratic system is not working in the way voters would like.
Moreover, members of both movements have vocalized some frustrations that are shared by a broad mass of the American people--that moneyed interests on Wall Street and K Street have unprecedented levels of influence on government, and that the level of partisanship and gridlock in Washington has paralyzed our governing institutions from serving the people--with a USA Today/Gallup poll released on Tuesday showing that 64 percent of Americans blame the federal government more than Wall Street for the poor economy.
And indeed, 35 percent of the 198 Occupy Wall Street protesters interviewed by a senior researcher at my polling firm, Arielle Alter Confino, on October 10 and 11 said they would like to see the "Occupy" movement influence the Democratic Party the way the Tea Party influenced the GOP.
But the two movements diverge both in terms of their potential impact and whether they are representative of a broader constituency.
The results of the recent Occupy Wall Street survey conducted by my firm suggest that unlike the Tea Party, the Occupy Wall Street movement is neither reflective of overall public opinion in the United States, nor is it likely to be able to achieve the Tea Party's level of activism and influence, which has been both unprecedented and arguably unique in recent American political history.
The Tea Party movement is a reflection of the broad-based consensus among the American electorate that we need to reduce the size and scope of government, reduce spending, and return to core principles.
Put another way, it speaks directly to what University of San Francisco Professor Stephen Zunes referred to in an October 7 nytimes.com "Room For Debate" posting as "the legitimate aspirations of small business owners, small farmers, and working families of the poor and middle-class majority whose voices in the established political process are too often drowned out by powerful corporate interests."
And indeed, it demonstrated an unprecedented level of influence over primary and general election outcomes, defeating incumbent senators, and helping the GOP pick up 62 seats in the House--the largest sweep of House races since 1948--and six in the Senate.
Results of my own research suggests clearly and unambiguously that Occupy Wall Street is not going to do this.
It is certainly telling that at a time when the electorate is split virtually evenly between the two major parties, when we asked Occupy Wall Street protesters to tell us which political party they identify with the most, not a single respondent self-identified as a Republican.
The protesters advocate a worldview that is shared predominantly by engaged progressives who are disillusioned with the capitalist system and have a distinct activist orientation.
They support massive intervention in the economy--large majorities call for increased regulation of the private sector (70 percent) and more tariffs and protectionist policies to keep American jobs from being outsourced (73 percent).
Sixty-five percent say that government has a moral responsibility to guarantee all citizens access to affordable healthcare, a college education, and a secure retirement—no matter the cost.
When respondents were asked what they would like to see the Occupy movement achieve in an open-ended question, a plurality (35 percent) said their top goal was for Occupy Wall Street to move the Democratic Party distinctly and boldly left in the same way that the Tea Party has moved the GOP in a conservative direction. Moreover, another 21 percent said the most important achievement of the movement would be one of four things--each of which has been a goal of the left: engage and mobilize progressives, radical redistribution of wealth, dissolution of democracy/end of capitalism, and implementing a system of single payer healthcare.
With 41 percent of the electorate self-identifying as conservative, 36 percent as moderate, and only 21 percent as liberal, it is nearly certain that a movement that is not representative of anything more than a small sliver of "very liberal" voters--who Gallup has found comprise a mere 9 percent of self-identified Democratic voters, and 6 percent of the electorate overall--will only push the independents who had voted for President Barack Obama by 52 percent to 44 percent in 2008, and who in 2010 voted for the Republicans 55 percent to 39 percent farther away from a Democratic Party that they most assuredly do not want to move any farther to the left.
About Douglas Schoen Democratic Campaign Consultant
Robert Weissman President of Public Citizen
Reniqua Allen Schwartz Fellow at the New America Foundation
Mark Meckler National Coordinator of Tea Party Patriots