Matt Owen, right, talks with members of the San Bernardino, Colton, Rialto and Fontana Occupy Saturday during a rally outside of San Bernardino City Hall. (LaFonzo Carter/ Staff Photographer)

Josh Dulaney, Staff Writer
Posted: 12/03/2011 06:12:12 AM PST

Two of the most polarizing political movements in recent memory have gained national fame through grassroots efforts to effect change in Washington.

And Americans, who seemingly are divided on most political issues of the day, are unsurprisingly split on which group best represents their cause.

They are just as likely to say that the Occupy Wall Street movement reflects their values, as they are to say that the Tea Party does, according to a new poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute in Washington, D.C.

While few Americans say both groups share their values, and nearly half say neither group represents their views, an equal number – 23 percent each – say they either identify with the Tea Party or the Occupy movements.

“I think one of the things that surprised me was the overall kind of symmetry there is between support for these two movements in the American population,” said Robert P. Jones, chief executive officer of the Public Religion Research Institute. “I think that was particularly surprising given the relatively long history of the media coverage of the Tea Party compared to the Occupy movement.”

Both movements blame the country’s woes – rampant poverty, high unemployment, a schizophrenic stock market and other troubles – on what they say is a broken government led by pandering politicians.

“I think there are (similarities between the movements),” said Keith Jackson of Occupy Redlands. “Certainly the sources of what people are upset about are similar.”

And yet the makeup of each movement’s supporters is vastly different, according to the Public Religion Research Institute survey.

Among those who identify with the Tea Party movement, more than one-third are white evangelical Protestants, compared to just 10 percent of those who identify with Occupy Wall Street.

Nearly one-third of those who identify with the Occupy movement have no formal religious affiliation, compared to 12 percent of those who identify with the beliefs of the Tea Party.

Americans who say they share the values of the Tea Party are overwhelmingly white non-Hispanic, with just 16 percent identifying as non-white.

A large minority – 37 percent – of those who relate to the Occupy movement identify as non-white.

A majority of Occupy sympathizers are under age 50, compared to less than half of those who identify with the Tea Party, and nearly one-quarter of those who identify with the values of the Tea Party movement are retired, compared to just 14 percent of those who support the Occupy movement, according to the survey.

More than 70 percent of those who share the views of the Tea Party identify as conservative, while the Occupy movement is relatively more diverse, with liberals making up 43 percent, moderates accounting for 33 percent, and conservatives filling 21 percent of the ranks.

Still, and even surprising to an experienced researcher like Jones, majorities across nearly every demographic – major religious groups, education groups, age groups – agree that Washington should do more to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor.

“This message about inequality really resonates with Americans,” Jones said.

Yet how can two movements that agree on a key thesis – that toxic politics is a root cause of the country’s problems – see such disparate idealogies among their members?

It all comes down to the solutions.

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