Protest Movements and Citizen Discontent: Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party*

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Abstract

Why do citizens indicate support for protest movements such as the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street? There have been two general sets of explanations. One set emphasizes that support comes from those for whom the existing party system, and the ideological differentiation that corresponds to party divisions, are irrelevant. The second set takes the opposite tack, and emphasizes that the only thing that supporters of protests movements find lacking in the party system is extremity. Using some underexplored data, we present evidence that both accounts are incorrect for the case of these recent movements (Occupy and the Tea Party): what provokes support for protest movements is not ideology itself but a fundamental rejection of the current state of the party system, which we call disgruntlement. What ideology does for supporters is provide a sense of political friends and enemies (or near and far), which then can channel the direction that this disgruntlement takes. Further, ideologues with more education are more resistant to the appeal of the protest movement associated with the other political camp.

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