Is the increasingly popular movement poised to turn the tide of American history?
After over a month of demonstrations, numerous dismissals, and thousands of arrests, Occupy Wall Street is gaining momentum. Over the last two weeks, polls have poured in revealing that Americans familiar with the protests largely support them. And since that familiarity will continue to increase, we can only conclude that the country's support for the movement will keep on growing. When you've got NYT pundit Charles Blow unfurling his hipster flag comparing OWS to legendary 90s band Nirvana, you know a tipping point has been reached!
Recent polls prove that when Americans hear this band, they dig it. Here’s a round-up:
Oct. 9-10 Time Magazine/Abt SRBI: This poll showed a 54 percent favorable rating of OWS, compared to a mere 27 percent thumbs up for the Tea Party. The same poll revealed a strong support for grievances associated with the movement. 86 percent of Americans polled thought that "Wall Street and lobbyists have too much influence in Washington"; 79 percent said that "the gap between the rich and the poor in the U.S. is too large"; 71 percent wanted prosecutions for "executives of financial institutions responsible for the financial meltdown in 2008"; and 68 percent believed that "the rich should pay more in taxes." Echoing the sense of alienation expressed by OWS protesters, 60 percent of respondents said that "the political debate in Washington and the media" does not represent their concerns.
Oct. 13-16 United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll: Here, a majority of those polled – fully 59 percent – said that they backed the goals of the protests from what they "know about the demonstrations." And 68 percent supported the Democratic surtax on millionaires to pay for the cost of their jobs plan, a policy cited by OWS protesters in a recent Millionaire's March in New York City.
Oct. 17 Quinnipiac poll: This survey of New York City voters revealed that the Big Apple is on board with OWS. 67 percent agreed with the views of the Wall Street protesters and a whopping 87 percent believed it's okay that they are protesting. On the political front, the poll showed that 81 percent of Democrats supported the protests v. 35 percent of Republicans. Interestingly, 21 percent of voters blamed the banks for the country's economic woes, while 37 percent blamed former President George W. Bush's policies. (Um, is there a difference?) But a hefty 73 percent said they would support tougher government regulation of the banking industry.
Oct. 15 -16 USA Today/Gallup poll: This poll, which received the most misleading spin, found that nearly two-thirds of people who were asked didn't know enough about the goals of the Occupy Wall Street protests to say if they approved of them or not. Some have been duped by this result into thinking that the movement has a "branding problem."
Piffle, says Thomas Ferguson, professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. "This thing is still growing," Ferguson told AlterNet. "If you know it, you generally like it. You have to remember that the major media haven't been very good on covering the protests. Only recently did the New York Times start publishing substantive articles. Lots of people are just hearing about it, and as more hear about it there will be growing support."
Things get a little complicated when respondents are asked who they blame for the country's economic woes. The Gallup poll showed that a greater number of blamed the government compared to those who blamed Wall Street. The question is, which government policies are we talking about? The Quinnipac poll showed that respondents placed a great deal of blame on George W. Bush's deregulatory policies if you offered them more specific questions.
"I liken this Government v. Wall Street blame game to a Kentucky Derby head-to-head match," said Ferguson. "Even after all the propaganda that has been circulated blaming the government, half the population doesn't buy it. That's pretty amazing."
In an era of government capture by the financial sector, it's understandably hard to disentangle Wall Street from Washington. The anti-regulatory fever sparked by Ronald Reagan was certainly caught by Bill Clinton, and continued to rage through Bush II to fuel a full-on Wall Street conflagration. Obama's ties to the financial sector, evidenced in his still-strong campaign support from Wall Street, will only serve to further alienate populist-minded Americans. But when it comes to OWS, Democrats are much more likely to be supporters, the Gallup poll showed. 42 percent of Dems backed the protesters v. only 9 percent of Republicans.
Bottom line: If this thing continues to grow – and there is every indication that it will – the Occupy Wall Street could become the definitive movement for an entire generation. On Sunday, Noam Chomsky addressed Occupy Boston and called the movement "unprecedented." "There's never been anything like it," said Chomsky. "If the bonds and associations that are being established at these remarkable events can be sustained through a long, hard period ahead – because victories don’t come quickly – it could turn out to be a real historic, a very significant moment in American history."
Lynn Parramore is an AlterNet contributing editor. Follow her on Twitter at @LynnParramore.
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