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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

99-Percenters Winning the War of Popular Opinion

Wall Street protesters
It's inevitable that comparisons are drawn between the Tea Party and the Occupy movement, as much as people in both groups write off those comparisons. The media, after all, have their narratives and "everyone's freaked out about spending!" has seemingly changed overnight into "everyone wants to take on the wealthy!" So the media's natural reaction is to compare the two movements and see what, if anything, has changed.

But the Tea Party was never an actual movement, in the sense that it was the result of people demanding change. In fact, almost the exact opposite was true -- the people were the result of the "movement." The Tea Party was, is, and always will be a corporate PR stunt -- a guerilla ad campaign -- aimed at getting the rightwing talk radio/Fox News/wingnut blogosphere crowd (i.e., the gullible) out in public demanding that Republicans do what Republicans were already planning on doing.

The Occupy movement, on the other hand, seems to be the result of actual frustration with Washington. Republicans have been blocking everything and talking about "what the American people want," while totally ignoring polling that shows the American people want what the Republicans are blocking. Meanwhile, conservative and centrist Democrats -- including the Obama administration -- have often played along, watering down good legislation or compromising it out of existence. Where the Tea Party embodies manufactured outrage, the 99-percenters' is organic -- and justified.

We see this backed up in polling -- which should surprise no one. A United Technologies/National Journal poll finds "some 59 percent of adults either completely agree or mostly agree with the protesters, while 31 percent mostly disagree or completely disagree" with them. 68% support a tax on the wealthy to pay for the President's jobs plan and "nearly one-third of Republicans -- 31 percent -- completely or mostly agree" with the protesters' goals. Those are goals, by the way, that the media keeps telling everyone are a complete mystery. Apparently, the average voter finds them much less mysterious than the average TV pundit.


In addition, a recent CNN/ORC International poll found that the 99-percenters' view of Wall Street was shared by the vast majority of voters; 80% believe Wall Street execs are greedy, 77% believe they're overpayed, and 65% believe they're dishonest. When asked, "Overall, how much do you trust Wall Street bankers and brokers to do what is best for the economy -- a great deal, somewhat, a little, or not at all?" only 3% answered "a great deal," while 54% answered "not at all."

The only recent poll that shows anything but strong backing for the Occupy movement comes from the perfectly respectable Pew Center, which shows the public "divided" in its support for the movement.

About four-in-ten Americans say they support the Occupy Wall Street movement (39%), while nearly as many (35%) say they oppose the movement launched last month in New York’s financial district.

By contrast, more say they oppose the Tea Party movement than support it (44% vs. 32%), according to the latest survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and The Washington Post, conducted Oct. 20-23 among 1,009 adults. One-in-ten (10%) say they support both, while 14% say they oppose both.

This is actually less of a departure from the other polls than it would seem, since "support for" and "in agreement with" are two very different things. History shows that it's more important that people agree with a movement than support it or approve of it. And even here, it's Republicans who throw the curve -- both Democrats and Independents support the 99-percenters more than they oppose them. It's only among GOP voters that opposition outweighs support. And it's only among GOP voters that most support -- rather than oppose -- the Tea Party.

And it pays to point out that all of this polling comes after what many -- myself included -- consider to be biased and unfair coverage of the 99-percenters. Even in the face of media opposition, the Occupy movement comes out on top. Imagine what it would be like if snarky journalists and pundits weren't out actively looking for uninformed protesters.

It's true that the Tea Party and the Occupy movement have been pigeonholed into a rivalry both by the media narrative and by the Tea Party's corporate leadership. But it's just as true that in this debate -- as forced and manufactured as it is -- the 99-percenters are winning.


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