Roundup of Public Opinion Research on Occupy Wall Street
By Judi Lerman, October 26, 2011
The Occupy Wall Street demonstrations are garnering increasing attention from people around the country. Whether that is due to increased media coverage, or the coverage is due to increased interest in the movement remains to be seen. Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism noted that at the end of September, protest coverage made up two percent of the news, and by Thursday, October 6, it accounted for 12%.
Surveys show that at the beginning of October, one out of two Americans was familiar with the protests (Ipsos, October 6-10 ; ORC, October 6-9 ). While majorities in all parties had at least heard of the movement, fewer Independents (73%) than Democrats (84%) or Republicans (82%) report having heard of Occupy Wall Street.
The following week, at least two different surveys asked whether people were following the protests. Pew Research Center reported that 22% percent were following them closely, up from 17% a week earlier. Gallup found that 18% were following the demonstrations closely and another 38% reported following them somewhat closely.
There are various ways to gauge the level of support for the Occupy Wall Street protests, and the responses can vary accordingly. Ipsos asked, “How favorable or unfavorable are you toward the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protests, as far as you understand them?” They found that 38% of those asked were very or somewhat favorable, 28% were very or somewhat unfavorable, and 35% were undecided. There was a clear partisan slant, with 51% of Democrats, 37% of Independents, and just 22% of Republicans showing a very or somewhat favorable opinion of the movement.
A Time Magazine/Abt SRBI poll elaborated further in their question gauging favorability of the Occupy Wall Street movement, giving more information about specific issues focused on by the protesters. Subsequently, over half of the respondents (54%) said their opinion was either very favorable or somewhat favorable, 23% didn’t know enough to answer, and the same number responded that their opinion was either somewhat or very unfavorable. That poll further queried those who were familiar with the protests, asking about some of the specific issues brought up by the demonstrators. The following chart shows strong levels of support for these issues:
Researchers are finding agreement with the movement among many demographic groups. The following chart is from a survey done by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research in mid-October.
Two surveys measuring support and opposition to the movement indicate that at least one out of two Americans does take a position for or against it, probably because about as many do not know enough about the movement. However, support increases among those who follow the movement closely, which is an indication that the more people know about it, the more supportive they become. Gallup’s survey asked if people approved or disapproved of the movement’s goals and if they were supporters or opponents of the protests, but at least half of the respondents did not take a position.
To the first question, 22% said they approved, 15% disapproved, but a majority said they don’t know enough to answer. Similarly, 25% said that they supported the movement, 19% said they were opponents, and just over half did not take a position. The poll done by ORC showed the same results: just over one quarter agreed with the movement’s goals, less than 2 in 10 disagreed, and over half had no opinion. But, when Gallup looked at the responses of those who had said that they were following the story very closely, now fully 52% described themselves as supporters (compared to 25% among all respondents), 29% as opponents, and only 19% as neither. Similar shifts can be seen in the poll done by ORC: when they looked at only those who had heard of the movement, the numbers significantly changed: 42% agreed with the movement’s goals, 27% disagreed and less than one-third had no opinion.
A recent poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research demonstrated the level of concern among American voters about many of the issues raised by Occupy Wall Street. The following issues were seen as serious or very serious problems by the number of people shown in parentheses:
- As a result of the housing bust, a quarter of homeowners are underwater, owing more than their homes are even worth. Many responsible homeowners are now struggling with high debt and cannot sell or move. (93%)
- In 2008, American taxpayers spent 700 billion dollars bailing out Wall Street banks. That same year, Wall Street bankers received over 18 billion dollars in bonuses. (93%)
- In the first year of the economic crisis, average workers lost 25 percent of their retirement savings in IRA accounts, while the wealthiest 400 families increased their wealth by 300 billion dollars. (85%)
- College tuition and fees increased almost 300 percent over the last twenty years, and graduates now leave school with an average debt of twenty-four thousand dollars. (84%)
- Tax rates for the richest 400 Americans were sliced in half as their income quadrupled – now they’re paying just 17 percent. (76%)
- The richest 400 people in the United States have more wealth than the bottom 155 million people combined. (65%)
Since these issues matter so highly to so many, it follows that as more people learn about the protests and goals of the Occupy Wall Street movement, support will continue to increase.
Finally, Quinnipiac University polled New York City voters, where the movement started, and found very high levels of support for the protests. By a 67-23 percent margin, they agreed with the views of the Wall Street protesters and 87% said that it is "okay that they are protesting" (10% disagreed). Breaking down the support by political party, 81% of Democrats and 58% of Independents agreed with the protesters; even 35% of Republicans agreed (while 58% disagreed). But, fully 73% of Republicans agreed with the protesters' right to be there (along with 91% of Democrats and 85% of Independents). New Yorkers have also been paying more attention: a total of 72% of voters said they understood the protesters' views "very well" or "fairly well," a significant difference from the country as a whole, where only about half the respondents are even familiar with the protests. Regarding tougher government regulations of banks/Wall Street firms, almost three quarters of NYC voters were in support, including 80% of Democrats and 48% of Republicans.
The Quinnipiac poll asked about the soon-to-expire New York State "millionaires' tax." Sixty-one percent of those polled in New York City thought it should be extended, including 65% of those making over $100,000 and 55% of Republicans. Greenberg Quinlan also asked about a millionaires’ tax in their national poll, and found that 61% of all voters supported it.
On a national level, it is logical to think that as more people learn about the details and goals of the protesters, they will be able to form more definable opinions about the Occupy Wall Street movement. So, whether the media is leading or following, specific information and greater coverage can only help the public learn about the issues and decide where they stand.