Whether individual Democratic pols realize it or not, a battle’s underway to convince them that the answer to a key question has been settled: What will it mean for you in 2012 if you embrace the Occupy Wall Street movement now?
There have been multiple polls suggesting that pluralities or majorities of Americans support of the Occupy Wall Street protests. None of them suggest directly that embracing the movement would be a good or bad move for members of either party.
So for a particular kind of political professional, a Monday email from the centrist group Third Way attempting to answer that question verged on parody.
“Occupy Wall Street — Bad strategy for dems,” the subject line read. Third Way prizes itself on dividing politics into poles and seeking a middle path between the two, so their advice came as little surprise. But it also illustrated the extent to which the Democratic party is being pulled in opposite directions on a key question this election season.
For Third Way — a group that’s often leery of crossing business interests — that means making a big leap.
The group polled 800 Obama voters, 400 of whom (the “droppers”) didn’t show up to the polls in 2010, 400 of whom (the “switchers”) turned around and voted for Republican congressional candidates.
“The droppers are back, they’re very disgusted with Republicans,” said Lanae Erickson Third Way’s Deputy Director of Social Policy and Politics. “Republicans have done Obmaa’s job for him.”
It’s the switchers, Third Way argues, who need to be brought back into the fold in 2012 to assure Democratic victory. That’s a fairly conservative, pro-business, anti-regulation set. And so, they extrapolate, Democrats run the risk of cementing their 2010 support for the GOP if they align with Occupy Wall Street. Instead, the logic goes, Democrats should focus their political efforts on tying the GOP to the Tea Party. But this conclusion is based on multiple assumptions about disgruntled Obama voters and the protest movement itself — the survey itself doesn’t touch on Occupy Wall Street in any way.
“Our recommendation [is] not to necessarily lurch to the right in policies but to talk about a more optimistic view of where our country is and where we’re taking it,” Erickson said. “Both droppers and switchers overwhelmingly thought they were doing better than the average Americans…they weren’t blaming business.”
Further to the left — to varying degrees and for a number of reasons — organizations and activists have taken the opposite view; that the movement should be embraced, or that their concerns should be amplified. Before Occupy Wall Street, thanks to a concerted GOP push, deficits and budget cutting dominated U.S. politics. Now the terrain has changed to friendlier issues of economic inequality and jobs — all as the Democratic party has skirted the issue of the movement itself very carefully. That — and the fact that the movement is currently fairly popular — is the key pitch.
As time goes on individual Democrats will be the object a tug of war, with the corporate and business wing of the party pulling one arm, and progressives and grassroots activists yanking at the other.
“Third Way is the 1% — funded by the very corporations who are scared as hell that the 99% are finally taking back our democracy and our economy from them,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the advocacy group Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “Third Way has a long track record of bogus polling memos written on behalf of corporations that want Democrats to lose — and this one is no different.”
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.