Taking the measure of OWS

Pollster Doug Schoen, who’s worked for Bill Clinton and Michael Bloomberg, sent a researcher into Zuccotti Park on October 10 and 11 to take the measure of the Occupiers. Schoen wrote up his conclusions from this effort in a now-discredited op-ed in the Wall Street Journal:

Our research shows clearly that the movement doesn’t represent unemployed America and is not ideologically diverse. Rather, it comprises an unrepresentative segment of the electorate that believes in radical redistribution of wealth, civil disobedience and, in some instances, violence.

As several writers have pointed out, notably Azi Paybarah, Schoen misrepresented—to put it kindly—his own research. They’re not the radicals of his phantasmic summary.

A better overview was developed, using Schoen’s data, by John Nienstedt of Competitive Edge Research in San Diego, who posted it to the listserv of the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR), of which I’m a member. AAPOR etiquette requires members to ask permission of authors before reporting on their posts, and I’ve gotten that. Nienstedt asked me to point out that he’s totally nonpartisan and independent, which I’m happy to do, because he is.

Here’s Nienstedt’s taxonomy of the protesters:

8% Radical

4%   Radical redistribution of wealth
4%   Dissolution of our representative democracy/capitalist system

53% Liberal

35% Influence the Democratic Party the way the Tea Party has influenced the GOP
9%   Engage & mobilize Progressives
4%   Single payer health care
4%   Pull out of Afghanistan immediately

5% Conservative

5%   Overhaul of tax system: replace income tax with flat tax

27% Process-oriented (don’t neatly fit in my continuum)

11% Break the two-party duopoly
9%   Promote a national conversation
7%   Direct Democracy

8%   Not sure

In other words, more than half are liberal, Democrats even, and less than one in ten are radicals—the same share who aren’t sure of what they are.

Though it’s all we have now, we don’t really know how accurate Schoen’s polling was. But if it’s anywhere near the truth, it really makes you wonder about the governance structure of OWS. By its own representation, the gathering is run by consensus and its official statements are supposed to be approved by a general assembly. But the GA’s decisions—like purging the Demands Working Group—may not be as democratic as they claim. More on this after I visit the Demands group’s meeting tonight.

In another post to the AAPOR listserv, Mike Mokrzycki—who also asked me to emphasize that he’s totally nonpartisan, so nothing he says should be construed as taking a political position—noted that OWS may be more popular than the Tea Party. As he points out, CNN/Opinion Research apparently stopped asking people if they were “active members” of the TP because they couldn’t get more than 2% of respondents to identify themselves as such. 2%! The TP does draw the sympathy of about 25% of the population. But most surveys show that a larger share of the public has a positive view of OWS than of the Tea Party. Of course, OWS doesn’t have billionaires funding its agenda.

12 Comments on “Taking the measure of OWS

  1. Doug, I’ve been following your writing on OWS and I think it’s some of the very best out there.

    I do have one very specific question about the “demands” controversy. Do you think that recasting “demands” as “goals” would put at ease some of the worries that a “demand” overly emphasizes the action, reaction or judgment by political opponents? The concept of a “goal” can be substantively identical to a “demand” but it connotes that the movement itself will have the final say as to whether or not it is met. I do think there is a fine psychological effect here and would be interested to hear your view.

  2. So a block representative of 27% of the occupation is using the GA to overturn the demands of a block representative of 53% of the occupation in the name of “process” and “direct democracy?” It looks like the Leninists in the 8% “radical” block better hurry up and impose some discipline before this thing gets really “grassroots,” which is to say, before it disappears.

  3. “Demands” does provoke the “how many divisions?” question. But still, I don’t like the reticence about making demands. What the hell is there to lose?

  4. I remain unhappy with the claims that the break with the Demands working group was (a) a “purge” and (b) was based on objections in principle to the formulating of demands, as opposed to the concerns about this particular working group.

    There are a lot of good people on what you’re defining as the other side. I hope you are talking with them as well.

  5. (By “other side” I mean the anarchists, horizontalists, etc. around the general assembly — the people who objected to the way the demands working group was operating. Obviously we do want to draw lines between ourselves and the 1%.)

  6. I’m with J.C. 99%! “Demands” is supplication marinated in hostility. It assumes impotence and leaves itself open to defeat. It’s bad poetry. Goals is proactive. It doesn’t give power away. It is not open to defeat. It leaves wiggle room for creative and alternative strategies and solutions. The distinction isn’t trivial. Angry Babies and possessive husbands demand because they’re out of control. Adults have goals and then they work to achieve them, overcoming all obstacles. I like that JC put it in question form, but it didn’t seem to reach you, so I DEMAND you take this suggestion seriously, Doug. You know and understand so much I hope you can find ways to make what you’re offering useful to OWS.. constructive and inspiring.

  7. From what I understand the “purge” happened because of 2 members (not you) of the demands group met with reporters of the nytimes and presented to them some kind of draft for demands that were like the meeting with the nyt ppl not approved by the GA. I guess that there was a not unfounded fear that some people of the demands group (again seems not to be you) tried to circumvent the GA and its process (they defied some GA blocks) and were going rogue.

    check out twitter:

    and here’s the link to the resulting nytimes article:

  8. Pingback: In some sense #Occupy will fail: what matters is how it fails (part 2), or purge the drummers. « Left Turn At the Crossroads of Critical Thinking:

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