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Occupy Wall Street and the 2012 elections

October 11, 2011: 2:09 PM ET

So far, Occupy Wall Street is a smallish group of rabble rousers, but they have gained serious traction in a short period of time and are worth monitoring as a potential political and financial sector factor.

By Daryl G. Jones, Hedgeye

Occupy Wall Street

Flickr

"If you put every single left-wing cause into a blender, this is the sludge you'd get." - Fox News, October 1, 2011

"Don't blame Wall Street, don't blame the big banks, if you don't have a job and you're not rich, blame yourself!" - Herman Cain, October 2, 2011

"I came down here to educate myself.... There's a huge void between the rich and the poor in this country." - Susan Sarandon, September 30, 2011

"We're tired of the greedy sons of bitches taking our money. Does this movement have legs? Shit, Look around you!" - Leader of Service Employees International Union, October 5, 2011

It's not yet apparent that these protests will have a major impact on the banking system, which is where their reforms are most focused, or the economy generally, but the movement is increasingly showing that it has potential. Further, as the quotes we've highlighted above suggest, the true catalyst coming out of this movement could be an acceleration of class warfare rhetoric heading into the 2012 election season.

The Occupy Wall Street protest is headquartered in Zuccotti Park, more commonly known as "Liberty Park Plaza." This is a plaza located just north of Wall Street in downtown Manhattan. Many believe that the Occupy Wall Street movement has its inspirations in the Arab Spring and, in particular, the protests in Tahir Square in Cairo. The specific catalyst for the protest appears to have originated with a Canadian based anti-consumer magazine, Adbusters, which floated the idea of occupying Wall Street to its email list in late July.

The Occupy Wall Street protest began on September 17 in New York. In a relatively short period of time, the protest has gained national and global media coverage. As well, the footprint of the protest had broadened dramatically. In just three weeks, the protest has done the following:

  • Acquired more than 63,000 followers on Twitter (@OccupyWallSt);
  • Acquired more than 175,000 followers on Facebook;
  • Held key demonstrations in the following cities : Manhattan, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Miami, Portland (Maine and Oregon), Seattle, Denver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal;
  • Received celebrity support from Susan Sarandon, Cornel West, Russell Simmons, Margaret Atwood, Alec Baldwin, George Soros, and Joseph Stiglitz;
  • Demonstrated in 70 cities globally;
  • Received union support from  14 of the largest labor unions in the United States; and
  • Received political support from Congressman Ron Paul, Senator Bernie Sanders, and former Senator Russ Feingold.

The central demand of the organization appears to be for President Obama to "ordain a Presidential Commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington." Beyond that the pervasive theme appears to be in protesting the richest 1% of Americans and their purported greed. In fact, when interviewed, leaders of Occupy Wall Street commonly refer to themselves as "the other 99%," which suggests that they represent a broad segment of the U.S. demographic. As far as we can determine, the group, to date, is largely made up of the left of the left wing, youth, and those underemployed. As a case in point, Marxist Slavoj Zizek spoke to the group yesterday.

To be clear, it is not apparent that there is any organization behind the movement that will make it overly effective, or that there is truly a coherent view, other than that "money" and "Wall Street" are bad.  To wit, this weekend an Occupy Wall Street group met in Atlanta and invited Congressman John Lewis to speak to them.  He has been a member of Congress since 1987 and is widely considered a leader in the American civil rights movement. A recent video, which is admittedly anecdotal, shows this segment of Occupy Wall Street could not even decide whether they should led Congressman Lewis peak to them.

Despite the lack of organization, Occupy Wall Street is garnering mindshare. According to the location of searches for "Occupy Wall Street" in Google Trends, the group is gaining the majority of its traction in more liberal areas in the U.S.

Analogies are already being made to the Tea Party. As of yet, those analogies are somewhat inaccurate. The Tea Party proved itself, even if a minority group, to be organized both politically and monetarily, which allowed the group to effect change in the 2010 election.  To be truly effective, Occupy Wall Street will need money (they purportedly have $40,000 in the bank), the one key thing they appear to be protesting.

That being said, as the chart below shows, Occupy Wall Street does appear to be getting comparable traction in the media as the Tea Party did after roughly the same period of time.  In terms of actual organization, the two groups are both loosely affiliated regional groups with no central leadership.  The key differences so far though seem to be funding (the billionaire Koch brothers are a key backer of the Tea Party) and a more coherent set of concerns and issues.

The cohesiveness that the Tea Party was able to build in short order led to a number of key electoral victories in 2010, including:

-          Marco Rubio defeating Charlie Crist for Senate in Florida;

-          Scott Brown won Ted Kennedy's seat in Massachusetts;

-          Rand Paul won a Kentucky Senate seat; and

-          Numerous primary and congressional seat victories.

It's too early to tell whether Occupy Wall Street will have real impact beyond disrupting the tourist flow in New York.  The media, though, is certainly giving the platform a voice.  Should fundraising and organization follow, Occupy Wall Street may be an interest group with a loud and disruptive voice in the 2012 elections.

Follow Daryl Jones on Twitter @HedgeyeDJ.

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Hedgeye, a real-time investment research firm founded in 2008 by former Carlyle-Blue Wave portfolio manager Keith McCullough, operates as a virtual hedge fund. Staffed by research analysts from across Wall Street, Hedgeye offers fundamental, macro and sector analysis, present picks in a transparent way to its clients. It has built a stable of subscribers, which includes hedge funds and mutual funds, and recently launched a retail investor product.

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