The movement may not have made headlines lately, but it has had a marked impact on both the Obama and Romney campaigns, and now its members are pushing for even more radical change, Douglas Schoen writes.
In a statement following the Senate’s rejection of the proposed Buffett Rule to impose a 30 percent minimum tax rate on those making more than $1 million a year, President Obama accused Senate Republicans of “choosing once again to protect tax breaks for the wealthiest few Americans at the expense of the middle class.”
A demonstrator holds a sign in front of a statue of George Washington at Federal Hall in New York City., Michael Nagle / Getty Images
And in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine this week, the president openly embraced Occupy Wall Street as “just one vivid expression of a broader anxiety.”
These remarks illustrate an important, but largely unrecognized, point about why and how the Obama campaign has retooled its message and strategy. Put simply, President Obama has effectively made class warfare the central organizing strategy of his reelection campaign.
Moreover, it is becoming increasingly clear that Occupy Wall Street (OWS)—while less visibly active in recent months following clashes with the police, infighting, and eviction from its flagship encampment in New York’s Zuccotti Park last November—is nonetheless seizing control of the political debate in America this election year.
OWS already has had a clear and demonstrable impact on both the Obama and Romney campaigns–arguably becoming the most important outside influence so far in this year’s election campaign dialogue.
President Obama and the Democrats have been increasingly echoing the central themes that OWS introduced last fall—emphasizing unfairness in American society, income inequality, and the need to redistribute wealth. Mitt Romney–who has struggled throughout this campaign on how to address questions surrounding Bain Capital, his overall wealth, the tax rates he pays, and what role Wall Street and business should play in promoting economic growth and job development–sought to tap into OWS themes at a rally in New Hampshire on April 24 with a speech centered around “the unfairness of America today.”
Moreover, the themes and rhetoric that Occupy Wall Street introduced have captured enough attention to go beyond the political hemisphere, to influence Wall Street itself. Nowhere was this clearer than last week when for the first time in Wall Street history, Citigroup shareholders united in opposition to a proposed $15 million pay package for its chief executive, Vikram S. Pandit. The shareholder vote, which comes amid a rising national debate over income inequality, suggests that anger over pay for chief executives has spread from Occupy Wall Street to influence actual behavior on Wall Street as well.
Occupy Wall Street’s rhetorical dominance of Democratic messaging fulfills one of the clear goals its followers articulated last October, when my firm, Douglas E. Schoen, LLC, conducted a survey of OWS protesters. At that time, a clear plurality (35 percent) of the Occupy Wall Street protesters interviewed said their top goal was for Occupy Wall Street to move the Democratic Party distinctly and boldly left.
They have largely succeeded.
President Obama has retooled his campaign message and has acted as an effective amplifier and advocate of Occupy Wall Street’s core messages since the beginning of 2012. His State of the Union address focused on the need for fairness and equality in American society and “an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.
The president has also emphasized time and again the need to redistribute wealth and income, and the need to protect all Americans from rapacious oil companies, banks, insurance companies, and the wealthy in general. Calling economic fairness “the defining issue of our time,” he went on to proclaim, “Now, you can call this class warfare all you want … But asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes? Most Americans would call that common sense.
A new follow-up survey conducted recently by my firm on Occupy Wall Street goals and objectives shows that the movement has new and bolder aspirations to use the rhetorical influence it has already won to fundamentally alter government policy and change American politics and society in ways that were previously unimaginable.
Arielle Alter Confino, a senior researcher at my polling firm, conducted a follow-up survey on the attitudes of Occupy Wall Street’s supporters. She and two associates interviewed a total of 200 protesters in Zuccotti Park and at OWS’ new Union Square location between March 28 and April 2.
The survey results show that OWS believes it has vocalized frustrations shared by a broad mass of the American people (65 percent), and is now controlling the national dialogue (77 percent) and influencing both President Obama and the Democratic Party (54 percent)—at least in terms of strategy and rhetoric.
Moreover, we found that the view that the movement has become quiescent is fundamentally wrong.
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