The Occupy Wall Street (and now “Occupy everywhere”) movement went from a protest of 1,000 people organized by anti-commercialism magazine Adbusters just over two months ago in the streets of New York, to the spark for occupations all over the country and for a national debate over inequality and corporate control of government and politics.
Now, as the movement enters a new phase, it faces the problem of its message devolving into a discussion of the intricacies of municipal park permits and police use of pepper spray. In northern latitudes, the encampments face the threat of the coming winter.
It’s not clear what’s next for the occupiers, nor is it clear how a movement without concrete policy demands can ever declare victory. Perhaps radically changing the national conversation will have to be enough for them.
Now seems like a good time to take a look at what kind of support the Occupy movement has garnered in Maine and what that might mean for the future.
In late October, a CBS News/New York Times poll found that 43 percent of Americans said yes to the question “Do you agree with the views of the Occupy Wall Street movement?” Other polls asking slightly different questions, like “Do you support or oppose the goals of the Occupy Wall Street movement?” found similar results. Recent polls have shown that support for OWS seems to be holding steady but that opposition has grown as occupiers clash with police and local officials.
In Maine, a poll I was involved in that was conducted and released by the Maine People’s Resource Center shortly before the recent election found that 43.6 percent of Mainers answered yes to the question “Do you consider yourself a supporter of the Occupy Wall Street movement?”
Looking at how people who said they supported OWS answered other questions on the poll can give us an idea of where these people are coming from (with the caveat that subgroups have a higher margin of error than the poll’s overall 3.65 percent and that only likely voters were interviewed).
One interesting result is that despite the many parallels drawn in the media between the two movements, Occupy Wall Street and the tea party share few supporters. Only 14.4 percent of supporters of the Tea Party also consider themselves supporters of OWS, which works out to 9.2 percent of OWS supporters. (In total, 27.9 percent of Mainers declared themselves supporters of the tea party).
Support for Occupy Wall Street is greater in the 1st District (representing mostly southern Maine) with 49 percent, than it is in the 2nd, with 37.5 percent support, likely reflecting Maine’s ideological landscape.
Support for OWS is much higher among Democrats and independents (with 63.6 percent and 55.1 percent expressing their support, respectively) than it is among Republicans, of whom only 13.1 percent consider themselves supporters. This seems to imply that the issues of inequality raised by OWS may be a good ground on which Democratic politicians can build independent support.
But the movement isn’t completely closed to Republicans. Few OWS supporters are also members of the Republican party or are supporters of the tea party, but 18.1 percent of them said they approved of Gov. Paul LePage’s job performance (although this is much lower than his 44.3 percent approval across all respondents).
When it came to the issues on the ballot in November, Occupy supporters likely voted the same as the population as a whole on three questions, as they closely mirrored general public opinion on the two casino initiatives and on the constitutional amendment on redistricting. Where they diverged was on Question 1, the People’s Veto to protect election day voter registration.
Some 75 percent of OWS supporters said they planned to vote yes on 1, with only 17 percent against. That’s more support than was found among any other demographic group measured by the poll, including measurements by gender, age, Congressional District and political party (74 percent of Democrats expressed support for 1, and were a smaller proportion of the respondents than OWS supporters).
The fact that this group is newly encouraged and engaged by the OWS movement might also be part of the explanation for the higher-than-expected turnout in the election and the large margin of victory for Question 1.
This is perhaps the most interesting result of this brief analysis. It hints at the fact that OWS supporters aren’t just interested in public displays of outrage, but also real change within our state’s political system and that the energy they’ve generated could have a significant influence on politics and policy in Maine.
Mike Tipping writes the Tipping Point blog at DownEast.com, his own blog at MainePolitics.net and works for Maine People’s Alliance and Maine People’s Resource Center. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org