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Friday, October 14, 2011

Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party

Could the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement signify a return to enthusiasm on the other side of the spectrum from what we saw last year? Enthusiasm in a political situation often comes from rabid opposition to something. Right now we are seeing a surge in opposition to Big Business exemplified by the OWS movement. Since being anti-business generally translates into being Democratic in terms of political orientation, it’s possible we could see a return to more proportionate enthusiasm on the two ends of the political spectrum.

As I’ve noted, angst, anxiety, and worry often are translated into (or displaced unto) convenient targets. Right now two of the most convenient targets are Big Business and Big Government. The Tea Party has been targeting Big Government. Now the Occupy Wall Street movement is targeting Big Business.

So the frame of this election could well be the choice of the most effective target: Big Government versus Big Business. Gallup has in fact, from time to time, asked Americans which is the bigger threat to the country in the future: Big Business, Big Government, or Big Labor. Few people these days think that Big Labor is the biggest threat, but when we last updated the question in 2009, Big Government won out over Big Business as a threat by 55% to 32%. In fact, Big Government has won out every time we have asked this question going back to the 1960s. (We will be updating it again shortly.)

One of the big impacts of the Tea Party movement in last year’s election was enthusiasm. All of our tracking showed that Republicans remained more enthusiastic than Democrats throughout the election and, of course, that enthusiasm was translated into a near-record take back of control of the House by the GOP. So far this year Republicans remain more enthusiastic about the forthcoming election than do Democrats. But could that change as a result of getting fired up against Big Business this year? That’s the key question.

Most data I’ve seen to date show that Americans’ initial reaction to the Occupy Wall Street movement has been more positive than negative. In a The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 37% of those interviewed tended to support “the sit-ins and rallies in New York City and other major cities around the country with people protesting about the influence Wall Street and corporations have on government,” 18% tended to oppose, and the rest either had no opinion or have not seen read or heard about them. In an Ipsos/Reuters poll, 38% of those who had heard of the Occupy Wall Street Protests (defined as “the protest going on in New York City and other locations around the country referred to as Occupy Wall Street”) had a favorable opinion, while 24% had an unfavorable opinion.

A TIME/Abt SRBI poll described the OWS as follows: “In the past few days, a group of protesters has been gathering on wall street in New York City and some other cities to protest policies which they say favor the rich, the government’s bank bailout, and the influence of money in our political system,” and found that 54% had a favorable opinion, while 23% had an unfavorable opinion. (More on this TIME description in a moment.)

How the protests are described to respondents appears to make a difference, but the overall responses are more positive than negative, regardless.

On the other hand, the last time Gallup asked about the Tea Party movement, it had a more unfavorable than favorable image, and slightly more Americans consider themselves opponents of the Tea party than supporters. We will have an update on the Tea Party, along with some new data on the OWS movement to use for comparative purposes early next week.

The TIME Magazine poll was accompanied by this headline: “Why Occupy Wall Street Is More Popular than the Tea Party,” followed by text which, among other things, said, “Twice as many respondents (54%) have a favorable impression of the eclectic band massing in lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park than of the conservative movement that has, after two years, become a staple of the American political scene.”

I’m not sure that conclusion is warranted by the data as collected in the TIME/Abt SRBI poll.  Look carefully at how the respondents in the Oct. 9-10 poll when asked about the two entities:

1. On another issue, is your opinion of the tea party movement very favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable, very unfavorable, or don’t you know enough about the Tea Party to have an opinion?

2. In the past few days, a group of protesters has been gathering on Wall Street in New York City and some other cities to protest policies which they say favor the rich, the government’s bank bailout, and the influence of money in our political system. Is your opinion of these protests very favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable, very unfavorable, or don’t you know enough about the protests to have an opinion?

TIME's respondents were provided with a description of the protests, and no description of the Tea Party movement.

Further, the description of the protests included explicit rationales for their protesting: “. . . policies which they say favor the rich, the government’s bank bailout, and the influence of money in our political system . . . ”  Other research shows these types of descriptions test very well, including in particular Americans’ negative views of the “rich” (i.e., Americans favor taxing the rich more), and negative views of the influence of money on the political system. Presumably had the pollsters for TIME included descriptive phrases describing the motives behind the Tea Party movement (e.g., “. . . big government’s trillion dollar deficit and out of control spending . . .”), the results could have been different.

As noted, we’ll have a direct apples-to-apples comparison between the two movements early next week. It would not surprise me, however, if we find that even with controlled equality in the measurement procedures, the OWS movement comes out ahead.

1 comments:

Brenden said...
October 18, 2011 at 10:47 PM  

Oh boy, Occupy Wall Street...
I'm glad that people can get together for a cause, however, most do not even know what they are protesting against. Big business is bad? Being successful is bad? Being $15,000 in debt because of a bad personal decision isn't your fault? Granted, this doesn't accurately represent all of them, but at least 90% of the 99%.
However, it is undeniable that there's a renewed passion concerning politics among these Americans. Regardless of whether or not this passion has a point, it is always a good thing when people begin to participate politically.
If only they were a bit more positive and educated about government...

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