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Gallup poll: Government more to blame than Wall Street for woes

October 18, 2011 | 11:03 am

Protests

Despite the growing effect of the Occupy Wall Street movement, Americans are far more likely to blame their economic woes on the federal government rather than  major financial institutions, according to a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll released Tuesday.

When asked whom they blame more for the poor economy in the poll conducted over the weekend, 64% of Americans faulted the federal government while 30% cited big banks and other financial institutions. Still, there was a strong populist thread against both big business and government in the responses, with 78% of the respondents saying Wall Street bears a great deal or a fair amount of blame for the struggling economy. But more people, 87%, said the same about the central government.

The results come as demonstrations centered in New York’s Zuccotti Park are in their second month. Protests have spread across the country, and indeed, around the world, causing more than 1,500 arrests in the United States and millions of dollars of damage, mainly in Europe. In the United States, the protests have helped reshape the domestic debate as the nation heads into the 2012 presidential and congressional elections.

Full coverage: 'Occupy' protests

The protesters have no real leaders and have a series of changing demands depending on the localities. But in general, the Occupy Wall Street movement is anti-capitalist, blaming the financial institutions and corporate greed for the recent recession and attacking the rich for prospering while the 99% of the country has floundered during the recovery. Protesters have called for more jobs and some form of debt relief for students behind in repaying their loans because they can’t find work and for those who are overdrawn because of the difficulty in making financial ends meet.

Democrats and their allies such as trade unions have seized on the protests as a way of pushing their jobs program, which includes a 5.6% surtax on those earning more than $1 million a year. Some Republicans, who initially condemned the movement as an example of “class war” being pushed by Democrats, have slightly softened their rhetorical tone, but not their conviction that new taxes are unneeded.

The poll also sought to compare the anti-Wall Street movement with the tea party movement, generally viewed as a conservative offshoot of the GOP. Both movements are based on anger at central authorities over the economy and debt.

But the movements seem to part company in their policy prescriptions. The tea party is seeking to cut off funding to the central government, leaving the free market to govern itself. The Occupiers seem to want government to contain corporate excesses and greed.

According to the poll, Republicans are generally more likely to disapprove than approve of the movement's goals and methods while Democrats have the opposite view.

A majority of Americans, regardless of party affiliation, said they were neutral about the Occupy Wall Street and tea party movements.  About 26% of those surveyed described themselves as supporters of the Occupy movement and 19% said they were opponents. About 52% said they were neither, with 4% having no opinion.

Meanwhile, 22% of Americans described themselves as tea party movement supporters and 27% as opponents. A plurality, 47%, said neither, according to the poll.

Part of the difficulty in understanding the Occupy protests is that fewer people than usual are following the story in the media, according to the poll. Fifty-six percent said they are following the story closely, including 18% who said very closely. That is below the averages for more than 200 news events Gallup said it has tracked since the 1990s.

The poll is based on 1,026 telephone interviews conducted Oct. 15-16. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

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-- Michael Muskal

Photo: A man talks to Occupy Wall Street demonstrators at Zuccotti Park in New York as the protest moved into its second month. Credit: Kathy Willens/Associated Press

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