Activism

Study suggests Occupy Wall Street movement undone by liberals’ need to feel unique

Raw Story

Occupy Wall Street protesters picket during a May Day rally in front of the Bank of America building in New York City. (AFP Photo/Monika Graff)
Liberals tend to underestimate their similarity to other liberals, according to a recent study, while conservatives overestimate their similarities — and those differences may account for the relative political success of the tea party in comparison to Occupy Wall Street.

While the tea party has grown steadily more unpopular over the past three years, the conservative activist movement continues to exert a powerful influence on the Republican Party and U.S. politics.

By comparison, the populist Occupy movement pushed income inequality into the political consensus but failed to gain much political traction in the Democratic Party — and researchers say those structural differences are the result of the way liberals and conservatives perceive themselves.

“The inability of liberal Occupy Wall Street protestors to achieve consensus on vital issues ultimately contributed to the movement’s failure to develop solidarity and enact political change,” the researchers wrote in a study published Nov. 18 in Psychological Science.

That’s because liberals tend to think they’re each unique in their ideology, while conservatives and moderates have the perception that most other people think the way they do, concluded researchers Chadly Stern, Tessa V. West and Peter G. Schmitt.

The study builds on previous research that examined specific characteristics of each political group, such as studies that found liberals tend to be more creative and prefer to express their unique capabilities and to distinguish themselves in groups.

Another earlier study showed that liberals tend to be more open-minded and curious, while conservatives tend to be more conventional and better organized.

The recent study surveyed participants’ beliefs and preferences, as well as their perceived in-group consensus, political ideology, desire for uniqueness, perceived social desirability and opinions on topics as wide-ranging as abortion, poetry, sex and coffee.

The researchers said liberals displayed a fundamental desire to feel unique and resist conformity in comparison to conservatives in the study.

“Liberals’ underestimation of similarity likely undermines their ability to capitalize on the consensus that actually exists within their ranks and hinders successful group mobilization,” Stern told Raw Story.

The researchers said a weaker desire to feel unique actually works to conservatives’ advantage in politics.

“Even though it might not exist, they perceive consensus that helps them rally their base,” the researchers said.

While this has obvious short-term benefits, Stern said conservatives sometimes make hasty decisions without truly building broad consensus for their plans.

“The Tea Party’s decline in popularity could be due, in part, to the realization that the attitudes that the movement espouses might not be as widely held as its members think,” Stern said.

4 replies »

  1. “Another study showed that liberals [sic] tend to be more open-minded [sic] and curious [sic], while conservatives [sic] tend to be more conventional [sic] and better organized [sic].”

    We’ve landed on the moon!

  2. Yeah, I would take this study with a grain of salt, although it undoubtedly touches on something important: the unique personality traits of the activist left.

    First of all, the kind of political traction that the tea party supposedly excelled in gaining was not something the core of Occupy was interested in, anyway. I think Occupy retained much more authenticity as a result, thought the argument could be made that “authenticity” is yet another liberal affectation.

    Secondly, I would say that, having gone to Tea Party organizing meeting before, the idea that they have a more coherent constituency is a mirage. They probably have slightly more willingness to sublimate their consciences to the groupthink (slightly more, as you saw this behavior in some of the PC bullying that went on in many of the occupations). But they had much more willingness to marginalize voices. Occupy, for all of its many, many faults, sought to be a place where everybody could have a voice and speak out. Tea Party meetings are places where dissent is at best barely tolerated, making their discipline seem more organic and inherent than it actually is.

    Finally, it should be kept in mind that Occupy was always a celebration of diversity and the need for a genuine dialogue amongst people of different beliefs and backgrounds. That gave us both strengths and weaknesses, to be sure, when it comes to boots-on-the-ground activism. I’d be the first to say that the dialogue often overshadowed substantive action (generally speaking, its presence in General Assembly meetings tended to crowd out the organizing efforts). But to say we were “undone” by that is silly. It would be like saying the Tea Party was “undone” by their hatred of Obama, when that was a prime driver of organizing in the first place.

  3. Funny how nobody seems to point out that Occupy Wall Street was founded mainly by anarchists with little or no regard for party politics on the left/right spectrum. Sure the party political lines came after the protest was under way. Then at some point the unions (who mainly root for the democrats) came into the mix claiming that Occupy was founded by obomber supports.

    • You can claim anarchists aren’t winged, but that will never make it true. Anarchy is full out left-wing, but advocates different types of NGOs to organize society. Meaning they may not respect the state, or the politics of the state, but they certainly believe in a stateless society. This cannot be accomplished without dismembering the hierarchy of private ownership. US politics present many unique challenges to left politics, the entire system is a huge disadvantage. I would argue only through many specific coalitions can change be realized. Those coalitions must transcend party, and even ideology itself, and advocate only on common changes to finally crack open the door.

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