Dawidziak: Tea Party and Occupy will have little impact in November
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The primaries are over and, as we await the hoopla of the national conventions, the political waters appear calm.
But under the surface, campaign pros are busy with analysis, targeting and number-crunching. The official start of silly season is the Tuesday after Labor Day, by which time campaign plans must be ready.
In looking at different issues and interest groups in my work, I've found something surprising. Two groups that have generated headlines over the last couple years aren't positioned to have a big impact on the November elections. I'm talking about the tea party and the occupy movement.
Why will they fail to have an impact when it comes to the main event? Several reasons. For one, both movements are extremely loose coalitions of grass roots organizations all over the country. There is no national leadership or spokesperson for either. Inevitably, this means that their strength is going to vary geographically. Both groups are stronger where their natural demographic bases live -- places where the groups will merely amplify electoral tendencies in ways that won't change outcomes.
The tea party is much stronger and better organized in conservative-leaning red areas, while the occupy movement is centered in the more liberal blue urban centers. This is also borne out by polling data: 71 percent of tea party members describe themselves as Republican. While the transient nature of the occupy movement makes its members much harder to accurately poll, data supports the conclusion that they lean left. Graham Nash and David Crosby are appearing at occupy rallies, not Chuck Norris or Ted Nugent.
Both movements have handicapped themselves by failing to articulate attainable goals. They are far better at saying what they are against than what they are for. The occupy movement is against social and economic inequality. While those are admirable stances, adherents haven't been able to delineate particular demands or proposals for achieving the movement's ends.
The tea party opposes taxes, more government borrowing and bigger federal deficits. The only way to advance those three causes at the same time is to cut spending, which neither major party has shown the courage or political will to do.
Still another reason both movements won't have much impact in November: this is a presidential election year, and neither seems enthused with either major party or the parties' nominee. A weak Republican field contained some tea party favorites who either dropped out early (Herman Cain, Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann) or decided not to run at all (Sarah Palin) or couldn't excite enough Republican primary voters (Ron Paul).
Lastly, neither movement is talking much about what the American voters care about most. Polls show overwhelmingly that economic development and cutting unemployment rank as the top issues on voters' minds this year.
While occupiers have shown almost no political involvement (and therefore no clout), the tea party has been good at picking its spots. Tea party activists helped force a primary challenge to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and helped defeat Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Indiana) in a primary.
Don't count on either movement to go away. Many tea party leaders tell me that their organizations are shifting away in frustration from national issues to focus on local ones. History tells us that nascent movements, like Occupy Wall Street, often learn how to transition into political activism.
What both groups can claim credit for is sparking a national debate on their respective issues -- and that in itself is an accomplishment. Michael Dawidziak is a political consultant and pollster.