Does Changing the Story Change Voting Behavior? The Occupy Movement and the Crisis of the American Party System
25 Pages Posted: 16 Jul 2012 Last revised: 7 Sep 2012
Date Written: 2012
As of the end of 2011, most of the tent encampments of the Occupy movement had been cleared away by police, while the movement sought to rechannel its energy into a variety of decentralized actions: fighting home foreclosures, demanding student loan forgiveness, and protesting the corporate domination of America. The general feeling of the protesters was that, as many signs proclaimed, “You can’t arrest an idea.” To some extent, the protests have succeeded in changing the story, reversing the earlier change accomplished by the Tea Party. It is now once again acceptable, even popular, to condemn the domination of politics by the wealthy - the “1 percent” - and insist that politics should serve the people instead.
It is less clear that what influence this change of story will have on the coming elections. There were some progressive electoral victories during 2011, but these were much more the result of labor union activism than of the Occupy movement. Despite calls from many to “Occupy the ballot box,” the core activists continued to eschew any partisan connections.
Nevertheless, this paper argues, the Occupy movement, in a mutually reinforcing interaction with the new labor activism, opens the possibility of ending the crisis of the American party system, in which large portions of the public feel that neither elected officials nor political parties represent their views or their needs. It is difficult to be very specific when proposing to study events that have not yet taken place, but this paper will examine both the content of the public dialogue (looking at such questions as deficit reduction or stimulus, free market or strong regulation, and the moral standing of corporations) and the protest and electoral activities of the Occupy movement and organized labor.
Keywords: Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, protest, elections, class, capitalism
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