In his recent article Polling the Occupy Wall Street Crowd, prominent pollster Douglas Schoen makes the case that embracing the Occupy Wall Street movement would cost President Obama and the Democratic Party leadership the 2012 elections. Schoen argues that the protesters "are bound by a deep commitment to radical left-wing policies," with "values that are dangerously out of touch with the broad mass of the American people." We recently conducted 100 interviews in Zuccotti Park (October 22-23) and 95 interviews at the site of Occupy Boston (October 23) and our data presents a very different picture.
Results of our interviews show a population more motivated by reform than massive overhauls of existing systems, a group well-educated and well-versed on relevant policy issues rather than a radical movement likely to resort to violence. Moreover, our data suggests that casting them as deeply committed to "radical left-wing policies" tells us less about this movement and more about the biased frameworks being applied to ascertain their policy positions.
Tax Structure: 83% of the New York and 79% of Boston respondents prefer a tax structure in which people who make more should be taxed at a higher rate, consistent with current progressive tax structure
Public vs. Private Sector: While a plurality of respondents in New York (45%) and Boston (47%) are of the view that social services are best delivered by the public sector as opposed to the private sector, a sizable number of respondents in New York (41%) and Boston (32%) selected the third option: "public private partnerships."
Tax cut on Businesses: Half of the respondents in New York (50%) and close to a quarter in Boston (26%) support (strongly/somewhat) a legislation that would reduce taxes on businesses to create more jobs. Many of the respondents who opposed such legislation did so on grounds of the size of the business: small businesses should receive tax benefits while big businesses should not.
Outsourcing: 70% of the New York and Boston respondents oppose (strongly/somewhat) outsourcing (abroad) of production and services.
Free Trade: Majority of the New York (69%) and Boston (52%) respondents support (strongly/somewhat) "free trade between U.S. and other nations."
Other policy positions and characteristics of respondents:
U.S. National Debt: An overwhelming number of respondents, 90 % in New York and 81% in Boston consider United States' national debt a very serious or a somewhat serious concern.
Education Reform: Upon being asked who should lead "education reform" 47% of the New York and 36% of the Boston respondents chose Federal government, while 34% of the New York and 36% of the Boston respondents chose State government.
Terrorism: 74% of New York and 70% of Boston respondents consider terrorism to be a very or somewhat serious concern at present.
Despite Schoen's findings, policy opinions on polarizing partisan issues remained overall consistent with main stream liberal social and energy concerns:
Public Support for Abortion Services: 80% of the New York and 79% of the Boston respondents support (strongly/somewhat) public support for organizations that provide abortions services.
Drilling in U.S. Waters: 76% of the New York and 74% of the Boston respondents oppose (somewhat/strongly) allowing drilling in U.S. waters.
Obama Care: 69% of the New York and 63% of the Boston respondents support (strongly/somewhat) "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act."
Unionized Labor: 62% of the New York and 58% of the Boston respondents support (strongly/somewhat) the idea that "companies with unionized labor should get government contracts before companies without unionized labor."
The majority of the supporters and protestors are highly educated and employed.
Employment Status: Only 16% of the respondents interviewed in New York and Boston were "unemployed." The majority, 57% in New York and 53% in Boston, are currently employed. Other respondents reported being students, underemployed or retired.
Education: Most of the respondents, 75% in New York and 62% in Boston either had an undergraduate or a graduate degree.
Stated simply, our results caution against any premature and overly simplified classification of the Occupy Wall Street movement and its supporters, while underscoring the need to conduct further research. Moreover, further research alone will not be sufficient, until and unless we move away from thinking of public opinion as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. In a representative democracy, public opinion should serve as a mechanism by which elected officials and candidates understand and address the concerns of the citizenry, rather than being used solely to determine which groups are most expendable in the American electoral process.
The authors started the Occupy Wall Street - Public Opinion Project (OWS-POP), an independent initiative run by volunteer researchers to generate and publicly share data on the Occupy Wall Street protests and protesters on ongoing basis.
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For Results: OWS-POP website: https://sites.google.com/site/owspublicopinionproject/home