Looks like I gave Doug Schoen way too much credit in criticizing him about his poll of Occupy Wall Street. His MO was to marginalize the protest movement in familiar terms, as a “radical” left-wing group supporting some amalgam of godless communism and hippie free love-ism for America. All of the actual policies that his poll showed that Occupy Wall Street supported have widespread support in the country, so I thought something was amiss. Turns out I didn’t know how amiss.

Left to my own devices to account for the raw responses to the survey (which Schoen was kind enough to send to me), I’d say the opinions of the protesters were not quite as … exciting as all that. They are about what I would have expected from a poll of the most committed long-haul demonstrators down at Zuccotti Park, who probably skew a lot younger and more activist-y than the much larger numbers of people who have put in appearances downtown but don’t have the wherewithal to camp out, and are certainly an imperfect reflection of the overall (apparently majority) segment of New York that has told other pollsters that it sympathizes with what Occupy Wall Street is doing.

Here’s one of the key questions in Schoen’s poll:

What frustrates you the most about the political process in the United States? {Open Ended}

30% Influence of corporate/moneyed/special interests
3% Our democratic/capitalist system
3% Stagnant middle class wages
21% Partisanship
15% Joblessness
6% Income inequality
7% Corruption
2% Entrenched bureaucracy
2% Bush tax cuts
2% Obama abandoned left
2% Military spending
2% Federal Reserve
5% Everything

Out of this, which is mostly a pro-jobs, anti-special interest message, Schoen sees left-wing radicalism. Same with his question about “What would you like to see the Occupy Wall Street movement achieve,” which brought back as its top response “Influence the Democratic Party the way the Tea Party has influenced the GOP,” and number 2, “Break the two-party duopoly.” The “radical redistribution of wealth” that he said was at the heart of the OWS protests yielded a big 4% of responses to that question, less than the flat tax, I’m sad to say.

So if you actually use Schoen’s raw data, you find a protest movement broadly speaking the concerns of a mass of the public, which happens to be more radical in its politics than the political system is comfortable with. This is typical of a pollster who works for Citibank, among other corporate clients.

Thing is, OWS has already achieved Schoen’s worst nightmare. It has started to change the conversation in this country, increasing the bounds of the possible. Just two months ago, you would have thought that the deficit was the only issue existing in the entire country. Now, jobs, unemployment and Wall Street malfeasance get top billing, entirely because a committed group of citizens pushed it to the top of the agenda. Heck, Eric Cantor is giving a speech on income inequality! He’s doing it wrong, of course, but just moving the goalposts in that rhetorical direction is a tremendous achievement. Here’s Charlie Pierce.

A couple of weeks ago, confronting the various Scribes and Sadducees that make up the “Values” wing of his party, Cantor was calling the Occupy Wall Street protesters a “mob,” and warning the timorous and pharisaical suckers that the tumbrels would be arriving on their streets any day now. Lo and behold, the country seems now to disagree with him, and, on Fox News Sunday, Cantor announced his earthshaking discovery that the United States has a problem with income inequality, and that his Republican party is poised to do something about that. Of course, every single proposal to emerge from his caucus would work to use the tax code to cement that inequality from now until Eric Cantor VIII is flunking economics somewhere.

True, Cantor’s argument is that the Republican plan would allow all the poor people in America to rise to become the owners of their own hedge funds, and is utterly insincere, where it is not complete bullshit. But the fact that the words “income disparity” were spoken by a member of the congressional Republican leadership, in public and without his tongue turning to fire, is proof that the elite pundits are right. The OWS crowd never will affect the country’s politics until it develops a “coherent public message.” Pity.

In Doug Schoen’s 1% universe, this is a dangerous and radical development.

David Dayen

David Dayen

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