The Occupy Wall Street protesters have been characterized by the media as unemployed youth or aging hippies who are looking to rekindle the protest movements of the 1960’s. The Denver Police Department went as far a calling the protesters in that city “grungy hippies” and “yahoos.” The actual on the ground demographics of the dedicated Wall Street protesters show a somewhat different reality. Douglas E. Schoen conducted a survey of face-to-face interviews of self-identified protesters in Zuccotti Park on October 10 and 11th to see exactly who the protesters actually are.  His data is available here. It should be noted that Schoen in a political analysis for Fox News which makes his commentary in his subsequent Wall Street Journal article on the subject somewhat dubious. The following is my take on Schoens raw data.

Schoens data shows that of the people who were polled 49 percent were between the ages of 18-29 and the remaining 51 percent were over 30.  28 percent were over 40. While nearly half of all the protesters are what would normally be considered young, the media portrayal has largely been that the protesters are almost all young people.  This is evidently not the case.

Another popular myth regarding the Occupy movement and its proponents is that they are radicals that occupy an extreme leftist’s position on the political scale. In his article, Schoen suggests that the link across other demographics is the protesters “deep commitment to left-wing policies.” The actual demographics show that while a vast number of the protesters identify as democrats (32%), nearly the same amount of the protesters did not identify with any political party (33%). The remainder of the protesters identified with other political parties which could be described as leftist. (I.e. anarchist, socialist, libertarian). Although, there is a distinctive tilt to the left, the protesters are not the homogenous democrat or anarchist group that certain media outlets have portrayed them to be. It should be noted that of the 198 people surveyed, not one identified as republican. That being said a more useful categorization of the Occupy protesters might be non-right wing as opposed to the radical left wing definition used by parts of the media.

The occupation status of the protesters has also been the focus of much media attention. When the movement began many people wrote off the protesters as lazy and unemployed. Schoen’s data shows that again the perceptions are not correct. Of the people polled, 71 percent reported that they were in fact employed (though some claimed to be underemployed). A further 14 percent claimed they were students leaving only 15 percent of the total polled unemployed. The poll does not mention the nature of individual’s employment which would have been interesting to consider. Another important demographic that was overlooked in this poll would be the yearly income of the protesters. I have heard rumours that some of the protesters are CEOs and lawyers and these types of polls could have shed light on those rumours.

The remaining information in the poll is related to specific issues and as such, is not demographic in nature. The questions posed are centered on leftist political policy. In this sense the data is somewhat skewed. Had more questions with a focus on right wing policy been included perhaps the protesters would not have ended up looking so liberal. One thing is clear though; the original media portrayal of the Occupy protesters as lazy unemployed hippies was and continues to be incorrect. Although nearly half of the protesters are young people and they are definitely not right leaning politically, they are not freewheeling hippies… least not all of them.



  One Response to “The Demographics of the Occupy Wall Street Protesters”

  1. This was really interesting data you found. Very interesting to learn about the different age demographics, but since there isn’t much information on how people were selected to be surveyed this data can only reflect the age distribution of his selected population who were willing to answer his political questions. It might not be directly reflective of the overall population in Zuccoti Park. Who knows how he was doing the surveying, what time of day, etc. These factors might impact the sample. But this was still really interesting to look at, some of the later political questions were really interesting too. I was surprised to see that so many people still support Obama and were going to vote for him again. Oh and I think libertarian and constitutionalist could be right wing, maybe? I suppose it depends.

    I also wanted to comment on how like you said the media associates unemployment with laziness. Which is sometimes the case, but I do think often unemployment is associated with physical or mental obstacles people are dealing with, or even a disillusionment and conscious decision to opt out of the system. So I agree this is definitely a problematic stereotype on their part.