Earlier this week, I shared with you my thoughts on the Occupy Wall Street movement and its effects on the current economic and financial climate around the world. I would like to take a step further now and discuss how this rapidly growing movement will impact the upcoming United States presidential election. By looking at this, it may forecast what we could begin to see around the world. Where although the Wall Street protesters are making headway, there may be another consideration found in people’s unrest with the government.
President Obama has been criticized by his base for being too soft on Wall Street. Add to that the failure of the administration to achieve overwhelming public support for initiatives such as healthcare reform, environmental regulations and deficit reduction. These two ingredients have contributed to Obama’s steadily declining approval ratings. Now, with Occupy Wall Street gaining momentum, the President and the Democrats have, by default, stumbled into a ground swell of support for their policies. Trying to capitalize on this new wealth of support, it would not surprise me to see the Obama campaign echo some of the anti Wall Street sentiments.
In fact, at a recent speech at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Dedication, President Obama shared his thoughts on the Occupy Wall Street movement.
“If [Martin Luther King, Jr.] were alive today, I believe he would remind us that the unemployed worker can rightly challenge the excesses of Wall Street without demonizing all who work there; that the businessman can enter tough negotiations with his company’s union without vilifying the right to collectively bargain.”
So it appears to me that Obama is foreshadowing his stance on what could become a key election issue.
Interestingly enough, it may not be that simple. At this point, pursuing the Occupy Wall Street agenda may not be the only strategy. If you take a look at a recent Gallup poll, we see that Democrats have become more evenly divided on whom to blame for the financial crisis. According to the poll, 46 percent of Democrats blame Wall Street, while 49 percent see the U.S. government as being responsible. Additionally, 28 percent of Independents blame Wall Street, while 65 percent hold the U.S. government accountable. The combination of these two demographic groups and their unrest with the government gives an indication as to why you might see some resistance in politicians around the globe relying solely on a strategy of blaming the financial industry or some equivalent of “Wall Street”
To my point, we are now seeing the President criticizing Congress, coming very close to calling them “do-nothings.” In an October 6th White House press conference he stated,
“If Congress does something, then I can’t run against a do-nothing Congress. If Congress does nothing, then it’s not a matter of me running against them; I think the American people will run them out of town, because they are frustrated, and they know we need to do something big and something bold.”
These criticisms may be in hopes of garnering support from those Democrats and Independents who are, in fact, frustrated with the government.
So then, how does President Obama run against the Republican candidate? Let’s assume for a second that the nominee is Mitt Romney, which is not a forgone conclusion. Looking more closely at Romney, a very successful businessperson who comes from the much-respected Bain Capital, it is not difficult to suggest that this association be rolled into a description of “Wall Street” in the rhetoric coming out of the Obama campaign.
Once this begins, you could conceivably see in the 2012 election that the Obama team essentially tries to make the election a referendum on Wall Street and the Republican Congress’ intractability on economic issues by attaching Romney to both groups. I would be willing to bet that in the research being conducted now on how to make the best contrast between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, someone is going to come running in to the room with a poll that shows a link between Romney and the perceived “excesses” of the past, with the pitch that, if advocated, would generate support for Obama. Add to that Congress’ current 13 percent approval rating and Romney will likely want to have his campaign headquarters on the North Pole to stay as far away as he can from Washington and his supporters in Congress.
Although rallying against Wall Street may be gaining momentum, things are not that simple. We should watch to see how President Obama incorporates the public’s frustration with Congress into this strategy. In this day and age, when democratization and disintermediation have become increasingly relevant, it is important to gauge the public’s changing perspective in order to stay in the game.
98 San Jacinto Blvd., Suite 1200
Austin, Texas 78701