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Americans Elect Leader Douglas Schoen Uses Dubious Poll to Label Pro-Reform Protest as Dangerous, Out of Touch, Radical, Extremist and even Violent

Douglas Schoen has been acting as a spokesman, a pollster, and an openly-declared “leader” of Americans Elect for some time now — that’s the 501c4 corporation with plans to nominate its own candidate for President and Vice President in 2012. While Schoen has been leading Americans Elect, he’s also been making some pretty strong declarations about the nature of political dissent in America.

Two days ago (thanks to Scott Moore for pointing this out to me) Americans Elect’s Schoen published an article in the Wall Street Journal in which he used the results of a dubious poll to disparage a subset of Americans as:

“radical left-wing”
“dangerously out of touch”
“not ideologically diverse”
“radical” (again)
“left-wing” (again)
“radical” (yet again)
“increasingly radical”
“potentially violent”

This subset of Americans is the occupation of Zuccotti Park in Manhattan, New York that calls itself Occupy Wall Street.

I call Schoen’s poll “dubious” because although Schoen describes his work as a “systematic random sample of Occupy Wall Street” in its occupation at Zuccotti Park, I will eat my shirt — yes, I will — if the poll really turns out to be a random sample. It was carried out over two days, and the population of Zuccotti Park is in constant fluctuation with people coming in and heading out, so there is no one population from which to randomly sample. Second, in order to sample randomly from Zuccotti Park, Schoen would have had to set up massive surveillance of the square, assigned random numbers to individuals, then tracked them as they moved around the Park to nail down their interview. Third, when you have a group of protesters some of whom are wearing Guy Fawkes masks and many of whom are legitimately concerned about infiltrators, the refusal rate for a poll collecting personal information is going to be high. I will eat my shirt if Schoen has a “systematic random sample.” Most likely he’s got a convenience sample of people at the protest who were willing to talk to his staffers, a subset of people who won’t be representative of protesters. Curiously, Schoen isn’t publishing methodological details to back up his claim.

This poll is dubious for another more simple reason: what Schoen reports the survey found in the Wall Street occupation and what the survey actually found according to its codebook are two different things:

  • Schoen declares in the WSJ that “Our research shows clearly that the movement doesn’t represent unemployed America…. the proportion of protesters unemployed (15%) is within single digits of the national unemployment rate (9.1%).” A rate of 15% unemployed is actually two-thirds higher than the national rate, which is a large difference that could have been reported as “nearly twice as many unemployed at the protests as in the national population.” But that doesn’t fit Doug Schoen’s narrative, so he doesn’t put it that way. Also not fitting Schoen’s narrative is the additional 18% of respondents at Occupy Wall Street who indicated they were only working part-time or were otherwise underemployed. Schoen doesn’t mention that bit. Add in the students, and it turns out that barely half of Schoen’s respondents have full-time employment.
  • There’s more misrepresentation. In a passage characterizing the participants as extremist, Schoen writes of his findings that “Half (52%) have participated in a political movement before…”. For Schoen, that’s dangerously high and out of touch with the rest of America. But his survey didn’t actually ask about participating in a political movement before; it asked whether the respondent had “participated in a political activity.” Among that activities that qualified: writing a letter to your representative. There’s attending a meeting. Oh, and volunteering. We mustn’t forget the dangerously out of touch and subversive act of volunteering. There are some former volunteers in that movement — watch out! Schoen doesn’t share this detail. It cuts into his story.
  • Then there’s the utter fiction. To make the respondents to his survey sound more radical, dangerous, extremist and left wing potentially violent, Schoen characterizes the response to one question as follows: “Sixty-five percent say that government has a moral responsibility to guarantee all citizens access to affordable health care, a college education, and a secure retirement — no matter the cost.” The question actually reads “Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: Government has a moral responsibility to guarantee healthcare, college education, and a secure retirement for all.” There’s no bit about “no matter the cost” in there, but that makes it sound a lot fringier, doesn’t it? And so Douglas Schoen stuck it in — no matter the truth.

With this sort of sloppiness and slipperiness, I don’t trust Douglas Schoen’s survey further than I can throw it. But enough of that. What if we were to take Schoen’s results as a reliable indicator of truth? What would make these people so dangerous, radical, leftist, out of touch, extremist and potentially violent in Schoen’s book? It can’t be that they’ve actually committed violence, because there hasn’t been violence at Occupy Wall Street — unless you count the violence inflicted by the police.

This is what makes the Occupy Wall Street survey respondents so unacceptable to Americans Elect pollster, spokesman and leader Douglas Schoen:

Dangerous: “Have you had to downsize your lifestyle because of your family’s economic situation?” Top Answer: 74% Yes

Radical: “With which political party do you identify?” Top Answer: 33% do not identify with any political party

Potentially Violent: [If underemployed/unemplyed] “Did you lose your job recently as a result of the economic downturn?” Top Answer: 82% Yes

Extremist: “Do you plan on voting to reelect President Obama in the upcoming 2012 Presidential Election?” Top Answer: 48% Yes

Increasingly Radical: “Do you approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama is performing his job as President?” Top Answer: 51% Disapprove

Out of Touch: “In the next few years, do you think that your personal economic situation will get better or get worse, or will it stay the same?” Top Answer: 45% Get Worse

Left Wing: “What frustrates you the most about the political process in the United States?” Top Answer: 30% Influence of Corporate/Moneyed/Special Interests

Dangerous: “Who would you say is most to blame for our failure to address our problems?” Top Answer: 21% Both Parties

Potentially Violent: “What About Violence?” Top Answer: 69% No

Radical: “Do you think providing government money to banks and other financial institutions was necessary to get the economy out of recession, or was it not necessary?” Top Answer: 52% Not Necessary

And what does Americans Elect leader Douglas Schoen think the sensible policy would be to counter this dangerous increasingly radical left wing extremist potentially violent claptrap? Read his article:

What binds a large majority of the protesters together — regardless of age, socioeconomic status or education — is a deep commitment to left-wing policies: opposition to free-market capitalism and support for radical redistribution of wealth, intense regulation of the private sector, and protectionist policies to keep American jobs from going overseas….

President Obama has thrown in with those who support his desire to tax oil companies and the rich, rather than appeal to independent and self-described moderate swing voters who want smaller government and lower taxes, not additional stimulus or interference in the private sector.

Rather than embracing huge new spending programs and tax increases, plus increasingly radical and potentially violent activists, the Democrats should instead build a bridge to the much more numerous independents and moderates in the center by opposing bailouts and broad-based tax increases.

Deregulation, outsourcing, fewer regulations, lower taxes for corporations and the wealthy. For Douglas Schoen, anything to the left of this Republican “moderate” agenda is a dangerous radical.

7 thoughts on “Americans Elect Leader Douglas Schoen Uses Dubious Poll to Label Pro-Reform Protest as Dangerous, Out of Touch, Radical, Extremist and even Violent”

  1. J. Clifford says:

    I’ve got to make the obvious point here: The Occupy Wall Street protest is speaking for the 99 percent of Americans who have to work for a living. Douglas Schoen and Americans Elect are speaking for the 1 percent of Americans who make their living skimming off the profits made by working Americans.

    Since when is defending the economic privileges of the 1 percent a centrist position? Americans Elect is full of baloney. They’re just jealous that the occupation movement has mojo, and is getting the kind of attention that public relations firms can’t buy.

    1. Tiradefaction says:

      >Since when is defending the economic privileges of the 1 percent a centrist position?<

      When certain wealthy individuals co opted the term "centrist" for their own means. For the past 10 years I've observed that "centrist" in American politics essentially means one who is economically to the right (though in this case, often mildly centre rightist, since they seem to call for very modest tax increases) while being either vaguely socially liberal or libertarian. The problem is, in our political discussions, we conflate economic views with social views to gauge where one sits on the map of our binary "left right center" scale. If you're opposed to the religious right, am either socially liberal or libertarian, but are economically to the right, you're therefore a "centrist". But then by that logic, if I were a staunch conservative Christian, believed abortion under all cases should be illegal, gay marriage should be illegal, etc., but were strongly to the left on economics (believed in universal health care, high taxation for the rich, etc.), would I then also be a "centrist"? Also that mix isn't some fantasy scenario, most socialists back in the 1800s in North America *were* staunchly conservative Christians, and you can still find that mix presently in some areas of the world, such as Australia. Me thinks however, that brand of "centrist" would not be welcome in the camp of John Avlon / Schoen / Americans Elect etc.

      1. Durandal says:

        You’re right that our political compass in this country lacks nuance and doesn’t account for it, incorrectly labels things left right and center and is generally fucked up. To drive the point home, a small party in the Netherlands called “ChristianUnion” wouldn’t fit anywhere in our compass. It’s a conservative christian party that’s anti gay rights and liberal society, but is also staunchly environmentalist (to the point Greenpeace labeled it the greenest party in the country) and is for a progressive redistribution of wealth.

        Obviously the two-party dictatorship in this country is partly to blame for this, but there’s other factors as well. R.G. Price of “RationalRevolution” made a really good political compass a few years ago that should be adopted, but I’m sure it won’t :p

  2. palindromedarius says:

    Americans Elect, founded by Peter Ackerman, had quite a run in with the IRS over something like $150 million Ackerman owed the IRS. Something to do with Ackerman, and his business partner, shifting $1.7 billion in tax losses from European banks to a California company in an alleged tax shelter. Ackerman paid the $150, million, after courts ruled against him, but got $29 million back from the IRS. He set up his son, Elliot Ackerman, as Chief Operations Officer of Americans Elect. I wouldn’t trust Americans elect, or anyone associated with that group or with Ackerman. Deciding, on-line, who they will put up as a candidate for President will likely be even more dubious that our current rigged electronic ballot system. I didn’t like the way Americans Elect put all these petitioners in shopping centers deluding people about who and what they really are and who founded the group in the first place. Most people just hear a few words of discontent of the current system and then hear “change” and they sign without knowing just what they are signing for. Once I investigated that group and who the founder was and what he was into I realized that this is one dangerous group that should be avoided like the plague.

  3. Bill says:

    It is fascinating to observe Americans Elect Corporation’s increasingly hysterical and radically partisan reaction to the Occupy Wall Street movement, as spewed through their pet mouthpiece, Schoen (can I start calling him “Nicht Schoen”?).

    Why such fear and loathing from AECorp over this mild-mannered consciousness-raising effort? I would guess that one reason is that OWS is transparently a real, live grassroots movement…exactly what AECorp works (and spends) hard to appear to be, and exactly the opposite of what it really is. Artificial turf never looks more phony than when you place it right beside some real grass. A REAL progressive grassroots movement must necessarily be viewed as “the enemy” by an astroturf campaign designed to bleed off and neutralize the progressive vote in 2012. “Hey, there’s only so many progressives to go around…we intend to buy ’em ALL!” AECorp’s paranoia regarding OWS speaks volumes regarding what its true (and stubbornly top-secret) agenda really is.

    And then, of course, there’s the extremely uncomfortable fact that AECorp’s sugardaddies, such as our Dear Leader, Peter Ackerman, are themselves…well, certainly not ‘1%ers’…more like 0.1%ers. Billionaire Dear Leader Ackerman has a well-established record of being extremely eager to buy himself the laws, the government, and the regulations which will be most favorable to his unique financial needs. OWS has, pretty correctly, identified skallywags like Ackerman as a huge component of the problem in this country today. The attention OWS calls to the manipulations by people like him pretty clearly threatens Ackerman’s rice bowl, so they must be destroyed. Not merely ignored, not merely co-opted, but snuffed out, ground into the dirt, and left for dead. To paraphrase Fred Thompson’s character in Hunt for Red October: “This thing will get out of control and somebody will get hurt (and by ‘somebody’ I of course mean, ‘me’).”

    Personally, I think this is a great development, and I am really grateful to OWS for driving AECorp to break cover like this. For as many millions as it is spending, for as much slick technology as it is bringing to bear, for all the stellar plutocratic names among its ‘Leadership’, AECorp is proving to be incredibly tone-deaf, clumsy, and transparently (not in a good way) duplicitous. It is embarrassing itself to a degree its opponents could never dream of achieving.

    Personally, I encourage everyone involved in OWS, and every OWS sympathizer, and pretty much every progressive everywhere, to join AECorp — and then attack from within. AECorp is a fortified castle with its drawbridge down and its portcullis wide open. Since…as it constantly reminds us…it is not a political party, you lose nothing in terms of your political affiliation (or non-affiliation) by joining. Dear Leader Ackerman’s strategy depends upon having millions of compliant zombie progressives under his command. The very easiest, and most effective, way to foil his designs is to join, then push the discussion where WE want it to go.

    C’mon in, y’all…

  4. Bill says:

    Or to put it another way: Occupy Americans Elect.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I call Schoen’s poll “dubious” because although Schoen describes his work as a “systematic random sample of Occupy Wall Street” in its occupation at Zuccotti Park, I will eat my shirt — yes, I will — if the poll really turns out to be a random sample.

    You mean the fact that Schoen is a big fat liar wasn’t enough to discredit his “poll”? 🙂

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