Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Left-Wing Tea Party?, If He's So Unpopular Then Why Is He Winning?

Occupy Wall Street: Populism Abounds
For three weeks now, left-wing protestors, seemingly without a unifying cause other than anger at corporate greed have been demonstrating in New York at Wall Street.  Their causes and complaints are varied, but can best be summarized as populist.  They complain about the bank bailouts and crony capitalism.  They seek higher (much, much higher) minimum wages, free college education for all and other benefits for the working and middle class.

Similar to origins of the Tea Party, this movement is fueled out of anger by people who don't feel like they've gotten a fair shake out of our economic system.  But, obviously these protestors have a different cause than the Tea Party.  Where the Tea Party has sought to minimize the size and scope of government, these protestors seek to expand it: more regulation of large businesses, more rights for workers.  It is a classic populist revolt.

As of yet, very few on the political left have taken up the banner of Occupy Wall Street, although the unions are openly supporting them.  But the right has certainly been taking aim.  Presidential Candidate Herman Cain criticized the movement and made the incredible statement that if you aren't rich in this country, that it's your own fault for not working harder and achieving more (quite a bold statement in this economy.)

So what does this all mean?  It's too early to tell.  The movement, like so many other protest movements could become an entertaining but largely irrelevant distraction (I'm reminded somewhat of the protests that follow the G20 around the world.)  It could become the "Tea Party of the left", a populist uprising that wreaks havoc on moderate members of the Democratic Party (I still contend that the Tea Party has hampered GOP success, not enhanced it.)

The larger lesson here can be assessed through the intersection of the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street protests.  These protesters come from different worlds and have very different solutions to what ails the country.  But the root of the protests are the same.  First, crony capitalism and most specifically, the bank bailouts are a common root of their anger.  It's interesting that activists from the right and the left are both energized about the same issue - money flowing from the government to large corporations - and for largely the same reasons.  Secondly, the general economic malaise is breeding both movements.  They have different solves, but both are mad about persistent unemployment and a lack of opportunity.

The problem for Occupy Wall Street is that unlike the Tea Party, they don't have a national platform next year.  The Tea Party can influence, to some degree, the GOP nominee.  President Obama has no real challenger for the Democratic nod, so disaffected liberals don't have a real choice unless a third party candidate emerges, and if one did, they would have to realize that supporting him or her would simply play into the hands of a GOP that they are at even greater odds with.

How Can President Obama Still Be Up in the Polls?
It's been a couple months since I've updated the President's polling numbers - I will provide a full update soon, but looking at his tracking numbers, his approve minus disapprove has slid further - into the -8% to -10% range.  This would ordinarily imply, as re-election campaigns tend to be about the incumbent, a popular vote percentage in the range of 45-46%, which is similar to the amount that would be projected by current economic statistics.

So why is President Obama polling better than that?

He is basically dead even with Mitt Romney in national heads up match-ups (up in some polls, down in others.)  He leads the rest of the field by healthy, but not overwhelming margins (around +5% against Perry, more than that against the rest of the field.)

I think there are a few reasons for it, some that GOP candidates can overcome in the months to come and some that are a bit of an intrinsic advantage to Obama.

(1) People Don't Like the GOP Field
There is a reason that Republicans keep trying to recruit new candidates (see Chris Christie.)  They know that the public isn't enamored with the current crop.  Romney is certainly the  most acceptable general election candidate (as the polls above reflect), but even he tracks behind where he should.  This is in part because in a GOP primary, the candidates (except Jon Huntsman) have all taken a hard turn right.  If the GOP contest is settled early (and by the calendar, it certainly seems that it will), then they may have an opportunity to track back to the center and gain some traction.  This will be most easy if the nominee is Romney.

(2) People Like Obama Personally
Don't underestimate the importance of personality on the race.  While Obama's policies have become increasingly unpopular, he is still a popular figure.  A good family man who speaks in a way that seems hip and relevant and at times even cool, Obama has the potential to outperform.  The GOP can't and probably shouldn't do much to tarnish that image (it would likely backfire), but they can build up the personal bonafides of their own candidates.  In this case, Romney is not the best guy, since he's a blue blood private equity guy.  Herman Cain's self-made man story sells a whole lot better.

(3) Some of the Anger is from the Left
The Occupy Wall Street protests above highlight an important fact - part of President Obama's unpopularity is derived from the right (see the Tea Party), some from the center (who are just mad we are broke and the economy stinks) but some is clearly from the left.  This group isn't going to back a GOP candidate, the best a Republican can hope for is that they are mad enough to stay home.

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