Poll tries to unpack Occupy Oakland’s beliefs

A pair of Oakland pollsters say their firm’s survey of Occupy Oakland protesters shows a diverse movement united by a shared sense of frustration with the status quo and driving toward some improvement that’s not even clear to them yet.

“In six words, we would sum up their responses to our survey as follows: They want things to be better,” wrote David Metz and Greg Lewis of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz and Associates, a Democrat-oriented public opinion research and strategy firm.

Metz and Lewis wrote that they did their survey in the public interest, not for any third-party client.

“Our employees either live in Oakland or in neighboring East Bay cities; the Snow Park encampment is next door to the office we work out of every day; and the encampment in the Plaza was just a half mile down the street before the November 14 raid brought it to an end,” they wrote. “Our business is finding out what people think, and the Occupy Oakland movement is a subject we all wanted to know more about.”

They acknowledge they couldn’t capture a statistically representative sample of so fluid and self-defined a movement, so they sent professional interviewers out with the goal of talking to as diverse a selection of protestors as possible. The interviewers were out in Frank Ogawa Plaza on Wednesday, Nov. 9 and Saturday, Nov. 12, at various times between noon and 6 p.m., talking to campers and visitors.

“While we certainly can’t say that our results reveal the views of Occupy Oakland with statistical precision, we can say that over the course of 109 interviews, we were able to learn a lot about the Oakland movement and the opinions and attitudes of the people who identify with it,” they wrote.

Among other things, they found persistence: 64 percent of those interviewed identified themselves as “frequent” participants in Occupy Oakland events, while 21 percent said they were “occasional visitors.” About 74 percent said they were from the Bay Area, including 48 percent from Oakland, 12 percent from elsewhere in Alameda County and 14 percent from other Bay Area locales. And almost everyone said they would keep participating in the movement “indefinitely.”

The protestors were fed up with both political parties, seeing widespread corruption throughout the system, and were lukewarm about President Barack Obama. Still, there is a partisan leaning – while 43 percent view the Democratic Party unfavorably, 74 percent see the Republican Party unfavorably and 67 percent see the Tea Party movement unfavorably. Views of the president were split about evenly: 33 percent favorable, 30 percent unfavorable and 34 percent neutral.

But 70 percent said they’re registered to vote and intend to do so in the 2012 presidential election, and that subset was slightly more likely to have a favorable opinion of President Obama; those who said they would not vote were more likely to view him negatively.

Lots more, after the jump…

Only 14 percent of those surveyed expressed a favorable view of Mayor Jean Quan; 6 percent, of Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan; and 9 percent, of the Oakland Police Department.

A majority of the protesters ranked fighting for greater social justice and economic equality as their top reasons for participating in the Occupy Oakland movement.

There was no single vision for the movement’s success articulated by a majority or a significant plurality of protesters, but there were some common themes: Many said they’ll not be satisfied until there’s major economic, social and/or political change in the nation, while some saw the movement’s growth as an ends unto itself and so feel they’ve already accomplished what they set out to do.

“Some (though not most) protesters endorsed specific policy goals like closing tax loopholes for corporations and the 1 percent, ending corporate personhood, electoral reform, greater funding for education, and prison reform,” the pollsters wrote.

About 77 percent said they support civil disobedience as a tactic for advancing the movement; 69 percent supported the idea of occupying abandoned or foreclosed buildings; and only 11 percent said they support use of violence, though some said the question should’ve allowed for a distinction between violence against property and violence against people.

“Overall, we found an apolitical but distinctly left-wing tone within the Occupy Oakland movement,” the pollsters summed up. “From the Mayor to the President and everyone in-between, protesters we talked to were frustrated with their public officials and the inability of the political system to fix the issues they consider important. Almost everyone we interviewed wanted a change to the status quo of economic inequality, but there was no consensus about how the movement’s goal would be achieved, or even what its specific goals should be.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.