The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street are undoubtedly very different animals. One group began as a populist outcry against big government and taxation, popping up periodically at Tax Day protests and Congress members' town hall meetings. Since then, it has become a sizable faction of the Republican Party. The other was launched by an ad by Canadian activist group Adbusters in September and has become a constant presence in cities of all sizes across the United States and in some foreign countries as well, with members camping out in public spaces. While decrying income inequality, the group's aims at this point are broad and nonspecific, covering both sociological and political ground.
Yet as Hendrik Hertzberg noted in this week's New Yorker, "there's an irresistible symmetry" between Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party, however much the two groups might protest that notion.
Here is how the two groups compare on a number of metrics.
According to the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, the Tea Party at its height of news attention (as of October 21, when the study was released) filled 7 percent of the newshole, during the week of April 13-19, 2009. That week, the young Tea Party engaged in major national protests marking Tax Day. Since then, the group has popped up again and again in news covered, albeit while garnering less attention.
Occupy, meanwhile, increasingly occupied the media's time during its first three weeks of existence, peaking at 10 percent of the newshole during the week of October 10-16. Since then, it has remained a major storyline in the media, but coverage has fallen off. Still, it has remained in the spotlight relatively consistently since its birth.
Point goes to: Occupy
There seems to be little contest here. The Tea Party has done very well in the political arena. It disrupted Democratic congressional candidates' town halls in 2010. It has pulled the Republican Party to the right, a dynamic that continues—well-established Republicans like Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar and Main Sen. Olympia Snowe are already feeling Tea Party pressure, and may see challenges from further-right candidates in 2012. It even gave its own response to the president's State of the Union address—a distinction usually reserved for the two major parties. Though none of the major broadcast networks picked up Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann's response, CNN broadcast it.
Occupy Wall Street, meanwhile, has yet to gain major traction. It has clearly gained the attention of the white House: President Obama will use ire against Wall Street as a key part of his re-election campaign. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has expressed her support of the movement. And Massachusetts Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren has emerged as a mascot of sorts for the group. But some Occupy chapters have taken on a breadth of issues, some of them not linked to current prominent political topics, like hunger and homelessness.
Still, there is room for the nascent Occupy movement to gain that clout if it so chooses, by taking a page from the Tea Party playbook. In its first weeks and months, the Tea Party movement was also "pretty suspicious of political parties as well" and "not initally oriented toward electoral politics," says Deana A. Rohlinger, an associate professor of sociology at Florida State University. The Tea Party's pragmatism helped it gain political footing, she says, as its members slowly understood that they "would have to work through the existing parties to get what they wanted."
Point goes to: Tea Party
Clarity of Message
The question, then, is exactly what either group wants. On the surface, this looks like an easy win for the Tea Party. One of the key criticisms of the Occupy movement has been its seeming lack of cohesion. As stated above, though its central message is about the actions of the richest Americans at the expense of "the 99 percent," Occupy has taken on a number of other causes.
But the Tea Party has also seen some mission creep. Though the group was founded on antipathy toward big government, large federal deficits and debt, and taxation, many Tea Partiers have also taken on the fight for tougher immigration laws and denouncing climate change.
Still, Occupy has yet to define clear goals. But Rohlinger says it's only a matter of time; as with political clout, Occupy's deficiencies in this area likely are in part due to the fact that it is still a newborn movement. "Over time we'll see nationally or in localities the message of the Occupy movement narrowing. Because if they want to keep people involved, they have to say really clearly what they want to do."
Point goes to: Tea Party
Public Support According to a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll released this week, the two movements together have considerable influence in the United States: Half of voters identify with either the Tea Party or the Occupy movement. This support is relatively even: 25 percent of respondents consider themselves supporters of the Tea Party movement, compared to 28 percent who are supporters of Occupy.
The two-and-a-half-year-old Tea Party has clearly proven that it is more than a flash in the pan, whereas the young Occupy movement has not yet had the opportunity to prove its staying power. But what Occupy lacks in longevity, it makes up for in geographic reach. While the Tea Party's support has remained mostly confined within U.S. borders, Occupy-affiliated protests have sprouted in London, Paris, Tokyo, and Rome.
Point goes to: Tie