The Death Of Occupy Wall Street? It Sure Seems Like It

All the available evidence suggest that the Occupy movement has fizzled away into virtual nothingness.

Walter Russel Mead pens an obituary for the Occupy movement:

Remember when Occupy Wall Street was sweeping the nation? The media branded it the left’s answer to the Tea Party, the start of a grand national mobilization; depending on who you ask, half of America once supported the OWS protestors, double the amount who back the Tea Party. The Huffington Post even launched a separate page devoted entirely to coverage of OWS.

How the mighty have fallen. The New York Times may still be trying to perform mouth to mouth resuscitation on the decomposing OWS corpse, attributing continuing policy influence sans evidence of any kind to a movement that has all but completely disappeared, but compared to the Tea Party, except for the media hype, OWS was a political flop. (Via Meadia is not a card carrying tea-partier, by the way; any tea sipped in the stately Mead manor is poured into delicate China cups by our well trained housekeeping staff, and tasted with pinkies appropriately extended in the proper, traditional way.)

Much of the Tea Party’s influence was negative from a Republican point of view: weak Senate candidates nominated by Tea Party enthusiasm dragged the GOP down to defeat in Delaware and Nevada races. In other cases, Tea Party enthusiasm increased turnout and swung close races to the GOP. But like it or loathe it the Tea Party did — and does — make a difference. Politicians seek its support; its leaders have taken over local party organizations and made waves in race after race across the country.

OWS is not in the same league. Despite generally favorable coverage from the MSM (something the Tea Party has never had), OWS has essentially fallen apart. It is not a significant presence on the streets; it is not a significant presence in Democratic Party politics; it is not a significant presence in the national conversation. Its vaunted strategy of shunning conventional politics in favor of self organizing groups making decisions from day to day more or less evanesced into space while the Tea Party, equally anarchic, did in fact spawn the kinds of movements and political changes that the OWS crowd did not.

To the extent that OWS had any influence at all, it was at the level of slogans: “one percenters,” “the 99 percent” and “occupy x” have entered our language. But as a populist left wing fight back against the biggest economic disaster since the 1930s, it was dismally lame. At its height it failed to match levels of popular mobilization and outreach that earlier movements achieved in past episodes in American history- and it fell quickly from that height.

Indeed, it’s hard to remember the last time the Occupy movement made any significant news, even on networks like MSNBC where they were given a largely unquestioning platform for most of last autumn. They planned protests on May 1st that didn’t achieve anywhere near the level of participation that the events in September and October did, nor did they get nearly the same level of media coverage. Protests down in Charlotte, North Carolina directed at Bank of America have similarly been a pretty much of a dud. Most importantly, though, there are signs that public support for the movement itself has plummeted in the last several months, even as the political conversation has returned to themes that this movement claimed that it cared about:

Nationally, most pollsters have not even bothered to survey Americans on their views of Occupy since the end of the Zuccotti Park sit-in. The only pollster who has reasonably consistently asked about Occupy has seen a decline in its support. The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that the percentage of Americans who consider themselves a “supporter” of the Occupy movement has dropped by half since November.

Only 16% of Americans in April said they were supporters, off from a high of 29% in early November. The question (about support) naturally gives lower registration compared to asking if respondents merely view the movement “favorably”, but by comparing from sample-to-sample, we can visualize the demoralising picture for Occupy supporters.

You might assume that people in the home state of the city where the protests captured the world’s attention might paint a different portrait. Interest in the protests in New York City is low enough that no pollster has even asked an Occupy-related question on a New York City-specific survey in the last few months. When we examine the Siena Research Institute’s statewide crosstabs and break down the results by region, we do get a large enough sample size, about 300, to make a judgement on how city residents view the protests.

It turns out that support for Occupy in New York City is also way down since October and November. Favorable perceptions of Occupy protesters have fallen each survey, registering a steady decline. For the first time, in May 2012, less than a majority (49%) of New Yorkers had a favorable opinion of the protests.

The movement has also seen a decline in popularity in the one city on the West coast where its protests drew attention for how violent they eventually became:

Perhaps the most telling statistic comes from the city of Oakland. Oakland has been home some of the more militant protests, which have never really damped down. But 34% of Oakland-San Francisco area residents support Occupy Wall Street, while 54% opposed it in a May 2012, according to a SurveyUSA poll. An astonishing 24% of residents who had once supported the protests now oppose Occupy. And unlike in New York City, more residents, 32%, believe the police have not been harsh enough, against 24% who believe the police have been too harsh.

Given the fact that, as I said, Oakland was the site of some of the more violent Occupy protests, it’s not entirely surprising that they would have an even more negative view of the movement than New Yorkers. Other than their continued occupation of Zuccotti Park, the New York branch of Occupy was relatively peaceful, and certainly didn’t cause any of the kinds of disruptions and destruction that the Occupy Oakland crowd did. Nonetheless, it’s hard to deny Mead’s central premise that the Occupy movement has largely fizzled out. It’s not just the fact that you don’t see them back out on the streets, although that would certainly be one measure of their continued relevance, there’s also the fact that there’s little real evidence that the supposed grass roots enthusiasm that the Occupy protests represented has been channeled into any other areas. The supposed efforts to be a presence during the Republican caucuses and primaries never amounted to anything. The small number of contested Democratic primaries that we’ve seen thus far this year show no evidence of the Occupy movement becoming a political force in the Democratic Party in the manner that the Tea Party has in the Republican Party.

Some will argue, no doubt, that the “national conversation” that we’ve had about income inequality, and the focus that the Obama re-election campaign has put on issues like tax fairness and the so-called Buffett Rule is a direct result of the Occupy protests. Indeed it is true that there was a renewed focus on these issues around the time that the Occupy protests started, but the reality is that these are themes that have been part of the Obama playbook since he started running for President in 2007.  Then Senator Obama made it clear that he would oppose keeping the Bush Tax Cuts in place for anyone earning more than roughly $200,000 per year, the fact that he failed to show the political spine necessary to keep that promise in December 2010 is more a reflection of his lack of leadership than the fact that there was no “Occupy” movement out there at the time. It was fairly easy to predict that the President would return to these themes as his re-election bid heated up and, indeed, the fact that the Bush Tax Cuts expire shortly after the 2012 elections is no small coincidence. As for the Buffett Rule, President Obama began talking about that issue when Warren Buffett first raised the issue of his taxes being at a lower effective rate than his secretary’s in a Op-Ed, so the person responsible for the Buffett Rule is a multi-billionaire, not the Occupy Movement.

There is apparently some talk that the Occupiers, or whatever might be left of them by that point, will be showing up at the Republican and Democratic conventions this summer. Indeed, the authorities in North Carolina and Florida are likely already preparing for that. If it happens, though, it will really be more of a demonstration of their political impotence than their strength. They’ll be on the outside screaming, while inside the future of the nation is being decided. That’s a pretty apt metaphor for what their entire movement has turned into, really.

This was all rather inevitable, really. As I noted in one of my initial posts about the movement when it burst upon the scene last fall, their agenda was, and remains, largely incoherent and their demands, such as they are, consist of little more than one long temper tantrum by people upset that the middle class life they were apparently expecting after college hasn’t arrived as fast they thought it would. They also seemed to fail to recognize that the source of many of the problems that they complained of, a good many of which were well-founded by the way, was the same government they were asking to come rushing in and save the so-called 99%. Their were logistical problems as well. The lack of any real leadership, except in the case of Occupy Denver, which named a dog its leader, meant that there was no spokesperson for the movement. That made it inevitable that the entire movement would end up getting sucked into the organized grievance factory that has existed on the left for years. Indeed, after a time, the Occupy movement came to resemble the protest movements I used to see as a college undergraduate in the late 1980s. When that happened the odds that middle America would become sympathetic to the movement began to dwindle away. The movement apparent refusal to ever make any coherent demands, and apparent refusal to get involved in retail politics, meant that they eventually just became a bunch of people camping out over night in a parks.

It’s possible that the message that the Obama campaign is pushing this year will succeed, and that he will have a mandate for tax reform that includes increasing taxes on “the rich.” If it happens, though, it won’t be because of Occupy. In fact, it’s doubtful they’ll even exist except in the minds of a few producers at MSNBC by the time the election rolls around.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Campaign 2012, Politicians, Public Opinion Polls, Taxes, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. Rob in CT says:

    Shockingly enough, a movement that is largely supportive of elite aims (TEA Party) is lavished with funding (and/or was expressly created by said elite) and (contra Meade) RW-media love and a movement that is pointing at the elite and saying “those jerks are screwing everything up” doesn’t.

    I also recall the OWS folks being determined to not be “co-opted” by the Democratic party. So they were obviously the enemies of the GOP and they told their slightly-more-likely (but not much) potential ally to eff off. Apparently (I speak based on news reports, nothing more).

    The TEAs are incoherent too, Doug. But they’ve got funding, and they allied themselves (or were born of) one of the major parties. That’s the difference.

  2. @Rob in CT:

    Yea it’s too bad the Occupy movement doesn’t have any rich supporters like Susan Sarandon, Michael Moore, or Sean Penn.

    Oh, wait.

  3. Tsar Nicholas says:

    It was a stillbirth.

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    It’s just pining for the fjords.

  5. Peacewood says:

    @Doug Mataconis: I dunno, Doug. Those aforementioned people didn’t provide anything near the material support that the Tea Party was given to the OWS — in fact, Michael Moore himself famously balked when asked to give money to Zucotti.

    I think Rob’s point is still valid. Words and no money don’t mean much.

  6. Peacewood,

    So you’re saying they’re all talk and no action? Got it

  7. James says:

    OWS already completed the only job it could do, promote issue visibility. Considering much of the 2012 presidential campaign messaging is couched in OWS vocabulary, I would say the movement was very much a success.

  8. James H says:

    I think their lack of organization and (especially) their lack of a charismatic leader or spokesperson really did them in.

  9. Drew says:

    Mikey Reynolds will be apoplectic. He thinks the movement is historic in proportion. Put him on suicide watch when he realizes they are just a bunch of malcontent dopes.

  10. G.A. says:

    The Death Of Occupy Wall Street? It Sure Seems Like It

    and always smelled like it:)

    R.I.P.Poo&Pee Party…..

  11. ernieyeball says:

    Come on Doug, take the credit you deserve.
    The OWS movement started to crumble when you posted this story last December.

  12. Kolohe says:

    Well, from the pic, Occupy folks are at least in favor of gun shows, so there is that.

  13. Jib says:

    The OWS street protests have served there purpose although they will still be going on this summer. In self organizing movements, you need to get the word out, put a flag in the ground and see “Here we are, come join us”. That has been done. The organizing continues even if you can not see it from the belt way. It is not in the streets, it is not in the media, it is online.

    The ‘99% vs 1%’ is strong, anti-Wall Street is very strong. It crosses left / right divides and it will keep Romney out of the WH this year. Probably not best for the OWS movement if Obama wins, like the Tea Party, they wont really get going until the other side controls the WH but no way a WS banker gets in the WH in 2012.

    OWS needs candidates to rally around. They still seem few but remember that immigration was a grass roots concern for the right wing for years but very few republican candidates ran on it . These days with big money controlling the political process it takes time for grass root movements to break through.

    Change happens slowly, and then all at once.

  14. superdestroyer says:

    The newness has worn off so the hipsters have moved on and the professional protestors that came to OWS from Code Pink, Anti-nukes, environmental activist just continue to do the same thing and it is ignores.

    I was an OWS advocate on MSNBC (Marina Sitrin) on April 29, 2012 who came off an just another academic elitist who had Marxist leaning. I guest she did not get the memo that Marx has been totally discreated.

  15. An Interested Party says:

    As Jib notes, the OWS has been successful in its own way…Republicans used to get a lot out of their “class warfare” fantasies/charges, but now a majority of Americans do favor raising taxes on the wealthy…and while Doug crows about the alleged “death” of OWS, I notice his precious libertarianism is more like a fringe movement than something that can actually make a difference in our political system…

  16. justme says:


    Did Doug ever post about this OWS protester who actually had a job and some leadership abilities and was mysteriously wounded during an Oakland protest last fall?
    Occupy protesters rally around Iraq War veteran injured in police clash

    Funny how that worked out, wasn’t it? Yep, if taxes do get raised on ‘the rich’ the government will only use them to enlarge its corporate security apparatus. A few jobs will get ‘created’ in that arena, but labor as whole will still remain oppressed here.

  17. rodney dill says:

    It was the Tea Party + rapes and muggings… I figured it would last forever.

  18. KansasMom says:

    “They’ll be on the outside screaming, while inside the future of the nation is being decided. ”

  19. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Rob in CT: Shockingly enough, a movement that is largely supportive of elite aims (TEA Party) is lavished with funding (and/or was expressly created by said elite) and (contra Meade) RW-media love and a movement that is pointing at the elite and saying “those jerks are screwing everything up” doesn’t.

    The Tea Party is “lavished with funding?” I’d love to see just what all that funding was lavished on. The hallmark of Tea Party events were low-budget affairs. No ready-made signs, no chartered buses, no paid staff, no massive organizing efforts, no T-shirts, no big-dollar speakers.

    On the other hand, the Occupy thugs were partnered with and backed by the unions and lots of rich liberals.

    Funny how that worked out, huh?

  20. WR says:

    @Drew: “Put him on suicide watch when he realizes they are just a bunch of malcontent dopes.”

    Of course, the only thing worse than a malcontent dope is a self-contented one.

  21. anjin-san says:

    A lot of the ideas OWS was talking about made it into the mainstream, and they are on people’s mind going into an election year. Sounds like success to me…

  22. Ron Beasley says:

    @anjin-san: I agree – few if any were talking about the 1% – 99% divide before but they still are now. “Mission Accomplished” as I see it. It’s a good thing that the occupations have diminished or ended – that sort of stuff just pisses the general population off if it goes on too long. If anything people are even more unhappy with the mega banks and the Wall Street casino. It worked!

  23. ernieyeball says:

    @justme: Hey there Hambone, why are you asking me? I’m not his editor.

  24. Davebo says:

    So you’re saying they’re all talk and no action?

    No Doug, he’s saying you are wrong. Don’t worry, no one expected you to own up to it.

    Got it?

  25. Tillman says:

    I remember being very enthusiastic about them until I learned they were a bunch of morons.

    Their death was foretold in the Daily Show interview with two “representatives” of OWS brought on to explain their ridiculous organizational and decision-making structures.

    The last death-rattle was Occupy the SEC, which put out great work but didn’t have any staying power, probably because the rest of Occupy were a bunch of morons.

  26. Tillman says:

    On a related note, why is it every “activist” I meet and have a discussion with is inevitably blind to how moronic they are? Every one is convinced of the truth, which is great as far as that truth goes, but they have no idea how to persuade other people to their way of thinking.

    It is a great irony that anarchists have horrible organizational skills.

  27. Rob in CT says:

    Btw, I think it’s true that OWS helped change the conversation for the better. But that’s really all you can claim for them, and they do seem to be over with now.

    If they had wanted staying power in politics, they were going to have to try to either: a) create a new political organization; or b) take over/join with an existing one. They appear to have chosen to do neither of these things, or they attempted option a and failed.

    The “Tea Party” (aka GOP base) movement to take over the GOP has been partially successful, and seems a better model if your goal is to do more than change the conversation. The result has been a lot of laws being passed (mostly at the state level, largely regarding either screwing unions or attacking abortion rights and/or birth control). In our system, the two parties are utterly dominant and entrenched. You want to change things? You gotta go through them, distasteful as that might be.

  28. Dave-0 says:

    Trying to see beyond the media hype, I attended a TEA Party meeting (polite, well-dressed and mostly coherent with about 20% minority participation) then tried to find an OWS rally to attend. Um.. try is the operative word there. I contacted several ‘contact points’ for OWS here in TX and got non-stop bickering, name-calling and paranoia. You have to wonder how this got beyond the mob stage. Maybe it didn’t.

  29. I loved it when the people took to the streets, but like anything it took on too much including a group of bad apples and a few planted bad apples to take away from their mission. I hope they will regroup better organized with better spokespeople. The media killed them along with the police who treated many good citizens standing up for their rights as common criminals. I`ll bet those orders came right from the top. The last thing the big guys want is the people rioting against all the wrongs the greedy have put upon our nation. They feel they deserve a billion times more than the average person. Some of these people only want a chance for a living wage and access to health care.

  30. Jenos Idanian says:

    Here’s one reason why the Tea Party is still relevant, and the Occupy turds are drying up: the Tea Partiers tend to understand what it means to work. So they’re still working away at changing the system. The Occupiers, by and large, are just demanding they be given stuff, and other stuff taken away from other people.

  31. matt says:

    @Dave-0: Wow that sounds so much better then the circus of a tea party rally I saw here in southern Texas..

  32. justme says:


    Guess I thought you did more than post sycophantic comments here and used your eyeball for reading a bit, Lout. Didn’t mean to get you all steamed up pondering a simple question.