Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Some advice from Bill Clinton's pollster

Douglas Schoen, who served as pollster to Bill Clinton, polled the people at Occupy Wall Street. It's not a purely scientific poll, but he and his co-worker polled 200 people at the Occupy Wall Street demonstration which is more than the isolated conversations that we've seen with selected people. And what he found about them is interesting. Some of it was basically predictable.
The vast majority of demonstrators are actually employed, and the proportion of protesters unemployed (15%) is within single digits of the national unemployment rate (9.1%).

An overwhelming majority of demonstrators supported Barack Obama in 2008. Now 51% disapprove of the president while 44% approve, and only 48% say they will vote to re-elect him in 2012, while at least a quarter won't vote.

Fewer than one in three (32%) call themselves Democrats, while roughly the same proportion (33%) say they aren't represented by any political party.
I wonder what the other 35% are if they aren't Democrats or any political party. It's hard to believe that they are Republicans. I guess there are all the minor parties out there: Libertarian, Green, Socialist, Communist....

But what is worth noting and should concern the Democratic Party whose leaders are embracing the movement is the ideology motivating them.
What binds a large majority of the protesters together—regardless of age, socioeconomic status or education—is a deep commitment to left-wing policies: opposition to free-market capitalism and support for radical redistribution of wealth, intense regulation of the private sector, and protectionist policies to keep American jobs from going overseas.

Sixty-five percent say that government has a moral responsibility to guarantee all citizens access to affordable health care, a college education, and a secure retirement—no matter the cost. By a large margin (77%-22%), they support raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans, but 58% oppose raising taxes for everybody, with only 36% in favor. And by a close margin, protesters are divided on whether the bank bailouts were necessary (49%) or unnecessary (51%).

Thus Occupy Wall Street is a group of engaged progressives who are disillusioned with the capitalist system and have a distinct activist orientation. Among the general public, by contrast, 41% of Americans self-identify as conservative, 36% as moderate, and only 21% as liberal. That's why the Obama-Pelosi embrace of the movement could prove catastrophic for their party.
If Obama has to worry about maintaining support among the far left-wing of the population, then he has no hope of winning reelection. There aren't enough leftists out there. He needs to focus on winning the independents. And Occupy Wall Street is not the movement to appeal to independents.

Schoen remembers how it hurt the Democrats who allied with the student protest movement and were swept in the 1970 off-year election. And embracing the youth anti-war protesters certainly didn't help George McGovern in 1972. Schoen offers his advice to the Democrats, but it doesn't seem that they are poised to follow it.
Rather than embracing huge new spending programs and tax increases, plus increasingly radical and potentially violent activists, the Democrats should instead build a bridge to the much more numerous independents and moderates in the center by opposing bailouts and broad-based tax increases.

Put simply, Democrats need to say they are with voters in the middle who want cooperation, conciliation and lower taxes. And they should work particularly hard to contrast their rhetoric with the extremes advocated by the Occupy Wall Street crowd.

(Thanks for the correction - it's Douglas, not Daniel Schoen. Oops.)