Occupy Wall Street shot to popularity back in December 2011 by people fed up with corporate greed and the fallout from the global financial crisis. It was hailed for changing the national conversation about social and economic justice.
These days, though, it seems we’ve moved on.
Did Occupy’s lambasted lack of objectives and institutional leaders make it difficult for the movement to sustain itself or have people just lost interest amidst an improving economy, where jobs are bountiful and wages are rising?
Supporters say the focus on Occupy Wall Street has faded because it achieved its goals. They point to the persisting drumbeat of attention on income inequality, the runaway success of Thomas Picketty’s bestseller Capital in the Twenty-First Century, and the emergence of inequality as a key issue in the 2016 presidential elections. And they point to protest movements that Occupy no doubt inspired in Egypt, Hong Kong, and around the world.
All of those successes are true. But historical data from Gallup show that Occupy and its antecedents didn’t really move the needle much in terms of popular opinion in America.
The 63% of Americans who say that money and wealth should be more evenly distributed among a larger percentage of people is not all that different from the 60% of people who said that back in 1984, according to Gallup.
And when it comes to whether Americans are more concerned about closing the gap between the rich and the poor or about moving up the economic ladder themselves, the latter still triumphs. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News Poll found:
“By a greater than 2-to-1 margin, however, Americans said they’re less worried about the income gap, per se, and more worried about how middle- or working-class Americans can get ahead financially.
In other words, although the Occupy protestors have moved on, things unfortunately haven’t changed much at all.