Occupy Wall Street Demographic Survey Results Will Surprise You

TPM IdeaLab

We now know what they want, what social networks and online tools they use and who doesn’t like them. But just who are the Occupy Wall Street protesters?

Over a month since the demonstrations began in New York’s Zuccotti Park, two demographic surveys of the movement and its supporters are now available online, both of them containing surprising, perhaps even counter-intuitive findings about the makeup of the movement and its supporters.

Survey One: Visitors to Occupy Wall Street Website

The first survey, the results of which appear in an academic paper written by Héctor Codero-Guzmán, PhD, a sociology professor at the City University of New York (CUNY), used visitors to the Occupy Wall Street movement’s website (www.occupywallst.org) on October 5th as its sample size. The paper was published online on the Occupy Wall Street website on Wednesday.

Politically independent
Among other striking findings, Codero-Guzmán discovered that 70 percent of the survey’s 1,619 respondents identified as politically independent, far-and-away the vast majority, compared to 27.3% Democrats and 2.4% self-identified Republicans.

“That finding surprised me based on what I had heard in previous conversations about the movement” said Codero-Guzmán in a telephone interview with TPM on Wednesday. “I wasn’t expecting many Republicans, but I was expecting more self-identified Democrats. In recent years, there’s been an increased interest in who political independents are and what political views are and what are their levels of interest in particular issues, which will only continue as the election cycle progresses.”

Other findings in the paper include:

Participation level: Relatively weak
Less than a quarter of the sample (24.2%) had participated in the Occupy Wall Street protests as of October 5, 2011. (But as Codero-Guzmán pointed out to TPM, the movement was still in its relative infancy at that stage.)

Age varies widely
64.2% of respondents were younger than 34 years of age, but one in three respondents was over 35 and one in five was 45 or older.

Wealth varies widely
A full 15.4% of the sample reported earning annual household income between $50,000 and $74,999. Another 13% of the sample reported over $75,000 , and 2% said they made over $150,000 annually, putting them in the top 10 percent of all American earners, according to theWall Street Journal’s calculator. That said, 47.5% of the sample said they earend less than $24,999 dollars a year and another quarter (24%) reported earning between $25,000 and $49,999 per year. A whopping 71.5% of the sample earns less than $50,000 per year.

Highly educated
92.1% of the sample reported “some college, a college degree, or a graduate degree.”

They have jobs
50.4% reported full-time employment, and “an additional 20.4% were employed part-time.”

“Dr. Cordero-Guzmán’s findings strongly reinforce what we’ve known all along: Occupy Wall Street is a post-political movement representing something far greater than failed party politics,” read a blog post on the paper posted on the Occupy Wall Street website Wednesday. “We are a movement of people empowerment, a collective realization that we ourselves have the power to create change from the bottom-up, because we don’t need Wall Street and we don’t need politicians.”

Cordero-Guzmán told Idea Lab that he and Occupy Wall Street’s webmasters planned to release more findings of their initial data sample this week and would conduct future studies in the coming weeks with a much wider sample size.

“I can tell you about 6.3 million people visited the [Occupy Wall Street] website within the last 30 days,” said Cordero-Guzmán. Not bad for its first month of launch!

Survey Two: Face-to-Face With Protesters

The other demographic survey of the movement was an in-person questionnaire of some 198 protesters on the ground in Zuccotti Square, conducted by Fox News analyst Douglas Schoen’s polling outfit on October 10th and 11th.

The results were published online Tuesday and used to bolster a Wall Street Journal column by Schoen in which he maintained “the Occupy Wall Street movement reflects values that are dangerously out of touch with the broad mass of the American people—and particularly with swing voters who are largely independent and have been trending away from the president since the debate over health-care reform.”

Still, a closer examination of the results of Schoen’s survey by The Wall Street Journal’s Aaron Rutkoff on Wednesday revealed some findings that Schoen glossed over or misconstrued to further his own perspective.

Participation split between veterans and rookies
Schoen’s survey found 48% reporting it was their “first time getting involved in a protest/rally/march etc.,” compared to 52 percent who said they had a “history of past participation,” about an even split.

Age varies widely
As Rutfkoff explained: “While 49% of protesters are under 30, more than 28% are 40 or older,” roughly coinciding with Cordero-Guzmán’s findings.

Some employment, but overall difficulty finding work
When it came to employment, Rutfkoff explained that “33%… are struggling in the labor market. That percentage is double the U.S. Labor Department’s broader measure of unemployment, which accounts for people who have stopped looking for work or who can’t find full-time jobs.”

Politically independent
As for political leanings, Schoen’s survey recorded that the largest group of respondents, 33 percent, “do not identify with any political party,” followed by 32 percent that identified Democratic and zero respondents who identified Republican. A further 21 percent, again the largest cohesive group, said “both parties” were to blame for the “failure to address our problems.”

And although Schoen’s column maintained that “An overwhelming majority of demonstrators supported Barack Obama in 2008,” his survey doesn’t exactly support that assertion. As Rutkoff found, ” according to the survey data, just 56% of protesters voted in 2008, and of those 74% voted for Obama. Crunching the numbers, it would appear that only 42% of the Zuccotti Park crowd has ever cast a presidential ballot for Obama.” Another 35 percent reported that they “somewhat approved” of President Obama’s job performance while 24 percent “somewhat disapproved” and 27 percent “strong disapproved.”

Overall, Rutkoff says, the survey indicates that “Zuccotti Park protesters are underemployed at twice the national rate, lukewarm to warm on Obama and broadly in favor of taxing the wealthy and encouraging a Tea Party-style populism on the left.”

Correction: This article originally misquoted Cordero-Guzmán’s statement about the visitors to the Occupy Wall Street website as 6.1 million unique visitors. In reality, there were 6.1 million visits to site in last month (since Sept. 18) and 4 million unique visitors. It has since been corrected.

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