Here’s a little bit more about Doug Schoen’s survey of 200 Occupy Wall Street protesters, which he wrote about in today’s Wall Street Journal. In the Journal column, Schoen, who is Michael Bloomberg’s pollster, said the survey, conducted by a senior researcher at his firm, was the first “systematic random sample of Occupy Wall Street opinion.”
The fact that the survey was done at all is an interesting strategic decision, since the movement gains a lot of power from its views being relatively diffuse. Allowing the opinions of everyone involved to be equally valid makes it both more representative and more appealing; the wider the range of opinions it can offer without seeming incoherent, the more people can identify with it. A lot of opposition has been dedicated to demanding that it articulate its demands more precisely, but that hasn’t worked. So, instead, we have the survey, a device which essentially forces a consensus opinion on the movement by representing its results as scientific and neutral. OWS won’t come up with a list of demands? Fine, but we can say that a majority favor raising taxes on the rich, increasing regulations on industry, and incorporating protectionist anti-globalization policies. Are any of those major, important beliefs to them? Are those strongly-held opinions? Do others in the movement disagree? We don’t know, but we aren’t aware that we don’t know. What we found is far more important than what we haven’t found, and the vacuum of consensus knowledge about OWS’s beliefs has now been filled in to some degree. Instead of articulating their own beliefs, their beliefs have been articulated for them through survey questions. There are caveats, of course, but no one remembers those. The caveats fall away and the numbers remain, structuring our understanding of the world. Democracy is messy, ambiguous, and diverse. Hard numbers are totalitarian. And now there are numbers for OWS.