Voice

Does the Wall Street Journal provide an accurate portrayal of Occupy Wall Street?

Centrist pollster Douglas Schoen has an op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal that reports on some polling his firm did of the Occupy Wall Street protestors: 

The protesters have a distinct ideology and are bound by a deep commitment to radical left-wing policies. On Oct. 10 and 11, Arielle Alter Confino, a senior researcher at my polling firm, interviewed nearly 200 protesters in New York's Zuccotti Park. Our findings probably represent the first systematic random sample of Occupy Wall Street opinion.

Our research shows clearly that the movement doesn't represent unemployed America and is not ideologically diverse. Rather, it comprises an unrepresentative segment of the electorate that believes in radical redistribution of wealth, civil disobedience and, in some instances, violence. Half (52%) have participated in a political movement before, virtually all (98%) say they would support civil disobedience to achieve their goals, and nearly one-third (31%) would support violence to advance their agenda....

What binds a large majority of the protesters together—regardless of age, socioeconomic status or education—is a deep commitment to left-wing policies: opposition to free-market capitalism and support for radical redistribution of wealth, intense regulation of the private sector, and protectionist policies to keep American jobs from going overseas.

Sixty-five percent say that government has a moral responsibility to guarantee all citizens access to affordable health care, a college education, and a secure retirement—no matter the cost. By a large margin (77%-22%), they support raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans, but 58% oppose raising taxes for everybody, with only 36% in favor. And by a close margin, protesters are divided on whether the bank bailouts were necessary (49%) or unnecessary (51%).

Thus Occupy Wall Street is a group of engaged progressives who are disillusioned with the capitalist system and have a distinct activist orientation.

Now there are two ways to look at this data.  The first, as many sympathizers with the movement have done, is to impugn the pollster's politics, his methods, and the ways in which he's inferring broad political generalizatiions from the data. 

These points are worth considering, though looking at the precise questions asked compared to his inferences, I'm not seeing all that much conceptual stretching.  Plus, Schoen's results seem to jibe pretty strongly with a smaller New York poll of 100 protestors conducted earlier this month. 

Furthermore, consider Nate Silver's analysis of the protests that took place over the weekend across the globe.  In looking at turnout, Silver arrives at a similar -- thouugh not identical -- conclusion: 

The nascent movement known as Occupy Wall Street had its largest single day of protests on Saturday. And a funny thing happened: most of the action was far from Wall Street itself....

Over all, about 38,000 protesters — more than half of the documented total — turned out in the Western Census Bureau Region, which accounts for about 23 percent of the country’s population. On a per-capita basis, the West drew about two-and-a-half times more protesters than the Northeast, four times more than the Midwest, and five times more than the South. And it wasn’t necessarily in large cities — although places like Los Angeles and Seattle had large crowds, so did the wine-and-cheese town of Santa Rosa, Calif., and the college town of Eugene, Ore. among others.....

 

This could be due to a number of factors. Perhaps it has something to do with race, for instance. Cities where African-Americans make up a majority of the population, like Detroit, New Orleans and Cleveland, have tended to have underwhelming numbers of protesters and poorly organized Occupy groups. (There are plenty of those cities in the South, the Northeast and even the Midwest — but not really in the western United States).

Or maybe it has something to do with technology: Much of the organizational activity for the Occupy movement has taken place online, and the West Coast is particularly tech-savvy.

I suspect that more than anything, however, it reflects the politics of the protesters. Specifically, they tend to be more liberal than they are Democratic partisans. Take liberalism, subtract the Democratic Party, and the remainder might look something like Occupy Wall Street (emphasis added).

There needs to be more data, but Schoen's results don't seem out of line with the other data points. 

Daniel W. Drezner

Does the American President need to know anything about world politics?

So I see I'm not the only one perturbed by Herman Cain's decision not to take foreign policy seriously.

Politico's Ben Smith concurs, but closes out his blog post on Herman Cain's foreign policy gaps with a provocative point:

There's... something almost quaint, '50s-ish about his invocation of "experts," as though there were a professional expert class that wasn't deeply divided by party and ideology. Even in foreign policy, last redoubt of the wise men, that isn't really true any more.

Except, perhaps Cain isn't really wrong. For all the Washington bomb-throwing, President Obama's foreign policy has been characterized by continuity with President Bush's, from Iraq to Afghanistan to Africa, not with any sharp break. The foreign policy elites don't get along, but with the occasional dramatic exception -- the Iraq invasion was that -- they generally wind up giving similar advice. President Cain will probably be O.K.

This is fascinating question -- does it really matter if Cain continues to dodge any and all foreign policy questions? I've noted that specific foreign policy pledges don't matter all that much -- what about generic foreign policy knowledge?

I think it does matter, for a few reasons. First, the continuity between Bush and Obama overlooks the fact that Bush's foreign policy circa 2008 looked very different from his 2002 foreign policy. It was Bush's post-2001 first-term deviation that truly stands out. Eventually, these deviations from the norm return because they are unsustainable. During the interim, however, an awful lot of blood and treasure can be wasted. I'd like a chance to know Cain's general thinking on foreign policy topics if he seriously wants the commander-in-chief job. If he also deviates from the general contours of American foreign policy, it's the rest of America that will suffer.

Second, Cain's philosophy of "I won't say anything until I know all the facts" is bogus because, in foreign policy, the facts are never all in. Very often intelligence is partial, biased, or simply flat-out wrong. It's those moments, when a president has to be a foreign policy decider for a 51-49 decision, that a combination of background knowledge and genuine interest in the topic might be useful.

Side note: if Cain really believes that he can't talk about foreign policy without getting all the information, then why does he feel at liberty to declare the Obama administration's foreign policy to be "dumb"? Either he keeps his mouth shut about the topic or he starts articulating some positions -- he can't criticize Obama without saying what he'd do instead.

Third, without some knowledge about foreign policy, the best intelligence briefings and foreign policy advisors in the world won't be able to help Herman Cain. An awful lot of international relations knowledge is cumulative; without a decent base there's no point in trying to be briefed on the arcane stuff. That would be like trying to learn calculus without knowing any algebra. I really don't expect Herman Cain to know the names of foreign policy leaders -- but I do expect him to know which countries matter and why. In his answer to "Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan," Cain made it pretty clear that he doesn't understand why Uzbekistan matters for supplying Afghanistan. That's a problem.

Fourth, there are decisions when the particular president does matter. A President Gore doesn't invade Iraq. Apparently a President McCain would not have sent special forces into Africa.  In this post-9/11 world, the president has greater authority to assassinate people than I'd like, but there it is  -- so which people will be on Cain's target list?  So I'd like to see the "Cain Doctrine" fleshed out just a wee bit.

Finally, and not to put too fine a point on it, America's reputation for competent leadership has taken a colossal beating over the past decade. With Iraq in 2003, Katrina in 2005, the 2008 financial crisis, and the 2011 debt ceiling fiasco, America doesn't look so hot in the eyes of the world. We have a smaller margin to screw up royally than we are used to. I suspect that even Herman Cain would learn about foreign policy after a few years on the job. It's those few years that scare the crap out of me.

The Cain campaign has said that they plan to "roll out a detailed foreign policy plan sometime within the next month," so they obviously recognize that there's a problem with their current lack of positions. I look forward to perusing their plans.