Politics

Most Americans Uncertain About "Occupy Wall Street" Goals

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Majority also lack an opinion about the way the protests are being conducted

PRINCETON, NJ -- Less than half of Americans express an opinion about either the Occupy Wall Street movement's goals or the way it has conducted its protests. Those with an opinion are more likely to approve than disapprove.

Do you approve or disapprove of the goals of the Occupy Wall Street movement, or don’t you know enough to say? Do you approve or disapprove of the way the Occupy Wall Street movement protests are being conducted, or don’t you know enough to say? October 2011 results

The results are based on an Oct. 15-16 USA Today/Gallup poll. The Occupy Wall Street movement has attracted significant media attention for its nearly month-long protest of major U.S. financial institutions in New York, with similar demonstrations taking place in numerous other cities in the United States in recent weeks.

But the American public does not seem to be very familiar with the movement or its goals. Part of that may stem from the below-average level of attention Americans are paying to the news story. Fifty-six percent say they are following the story closely, including 18% who say very closely. The averages for more than 200 news events Gallup has tracked since the 1990s are 61% closely and 22% very closely.

Additionally, the lack of knowledge about the movement's goals may be because the movement has not had clearly defined leaders or goals. Rather, it appears to be united by grievances against the wealthiest Americans -- in particular, those who run major Wall Street financial institutions.

Republicans (57%), Democrats (57%), and independents (55%) are about equally likely to say they are following news about Occupy Wall Street closely.

Those who are closely following the news about Occupy Wall Street are more likely to approve than disapprove of the movement's goals, but even among this more attentive group there is a substantial degree of uncertainty, 44%. That drops to 27% among the most highly attentive group, those who are following the story "very closely." Among this group, 45% approve and 29% disapprove of the Occupy Wall Street movement's goals.

Americans paying attention to the news about the Occupy Wall Street movement are more inclined to have an opinion about the way the protests are being conducted, and are somewhat more likely to approve than disapprove of those methods.

Opinions of Occupy Wall Street Movement's Goals and Conduct, by Attention Paid to News About Occupy Wall Street Movement, October 2011

Republicans are generally more likely to disapprove than approve of the movement's goals and methods, with the opposite true for Democrats. But half or more of Americans regardless of party affiliation do not have an opinion on either Occupy Wall Street's goals or its actions.

Public Largely Neutral Toward the Movement

Given Americans' apparent lack of knowledge about the Occupy Wall Street movement, it is not surprising to find a minority of Americans describing themselves as supporters (26%) or opponents (19%) of the movement. A majority, 52%, say they are neither supporters nor opponents, with another 4% not having an opinion.

Those closely following the news about the movement are more likely to describe themselves as supporters (38%) than opponents (24%). The percentage of supporters increases to 52% among those following the news "very closely."

Do you consider yourself to be -- [ROTATED: a supporter of the Occupy Wall Street movement, an opponent of the Occupy Wall Street movement], or neither? October 2011 results

Democrats are much more likely to say they are supporters (42%) than opponents (8%) of the Occupy Wall Street movement, with the remainder neutral (47%) or not having an opinion. Most Republicans, 55%, are neither supporters nor opponents, though Republicans are much more likely to oppose the movement (34%) than support it (9%).

The poll sought to contrast support for Occupy Wall Street with another prominent American movement, the Tea Party. In the poll, 22% describe themselves as Tea Party movement supporters, 27% as opponents, and 47% as neither. Gallup has typically found that about equal percentages of Americans are Tea Party supporters or opponents, with the greatest percentage neutral. Thus, the current level of public support for Occupy Wall Street is similar to that for the Tea Party movement.

Implications

Protesters have demonstrated in and around Wall Street for nearly a month, with the movement spreading and appearing to gain momentum around the U.S. At the same time, Americans are not highly familiar with the movement's activities or its goals. Those who are familiar with the movement tend to be more approving than disapproving of Occupy Wall Street, though with limited public knowledge about it, its supporters represent roughly a quarter of Americans.

It is unclear what the future course of Occupy Wall Street will be, and to what extent it will try to influence the outcomes of the 2012 elections or try to force changes in U.S. policies more generally.

Survey Methods

Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Oct. 15-16, 2011, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 1,026 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.

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