Americans, Sympathetic To Occupy Wall Street, Still Unsure Of Its Goals

Though the protest movement known as Occupy Wall Street has been camped out in Manhattan's Zuccotti Park for over a month, and inspired dozens of similar demonstrations around the world, it still seems to have a branding problem.

Most Americans say they still don't know what the protests are trying to accomplish, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll published Tuesday. The survey found that while 22 percent of respondents approve of the goals of Occupy Wall Street, and another 15 percent disapprove, a full 63 percent don't know enough to give an opinion one way or the other.

The same poll found that while many respondents blame Wall Street and major financial institutions for the poor state of the economy, a greater number of them think the federal government is to blame -- which suggests the demonstrators' strategy of criticizing banks, lenders and stockbrokers may be missing the mark with mainstream Americans.

Still, Occupy Wall Street appears to be gaining supporters, even if they find its aims hard to pin down.

Two-third of New York City voters said they support the protests, according to a recent poll. In addition to the Gallup poll -- which showed that advocates of Occupy Wall Street had a seven-point edge over opponents -- surveys from Rasmussen Reports and Time magazine also indicate that more Americans are sympathetic to the protesters than disapprove of them.

In fact, the Time poll found that twice as many people support Occupy Wall Street as approve of the Tea Party -- a margin of 54 percent to 27 percent -- suggesting that the protesters' grievances are striking a real chord with non-activist Americans.

It's perhaps not surprising that many seem confused about the ultimate aims of the Wall Street protesters, since they are, by their own admission, an ideologically diverse group.

The protesters in New York and elsewhere have criticized the influence of corporate money in politics, the gap between America's wealthiest citizens and its poorest, and the lack of consequences for banks and lending institutions that played a role in the financial crisis of 2008.

A recent semi-formal survey of the Occupy Wall Street protesters themselves -- co-conducted by Douglas Schoen, who, writing in The Wall Street Journal, called it "probably... the first systematic random sample of Occupy Wall Street opinion" -- found a group that is all over the map, politically.

About a third self-identify as Democrats, while roughly the same number say they don't belong to any political party. Some of them plan to vote for Obama in 2012, while others do not plan to vote at all.

The survey found that the vast majority of Occupy Wall Street protesters seem to be employed, despite criticism frequently leveled at the group that it consists only of students and jobless people with time on their hands. Schoen and his co-poller, Arielle Alter Confino, found that just 15 percent of the protesters they talked to were unemployed -- a proportion not much greater than the national unemployment rate of 9.1 percent -- which may help explain why the group's message about dwindling economic opportunities is resonating in the mainstream.