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Occupy Wall Street: Can it ever match tea party clout?

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Another factor is that the nation’s top priority, a dearth of jobs, is hard to fix, with neither the left nor right offering solutions that most of the public view as clear-cut winners. It’s possible that many tea party supporters are attracted to the movement because it provides a clear target at which to vent – bloated government – even if that may not be the cause of the problem. Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup polls, uses this analogy: “If you’re mad at work, you come home and kick the cat.”

A third reason, some say, is that the right has found ways to steadily deepen its roots, while the left has seen key institutions such as labor unions wither.

It’s a development decades in the making. Notably, Ronald Reagan steered the country toward greater skepticism of government and a stronger embrace of free-market economics. A parallel rise of conservative think tanks, as well as the political influence of Christian-right colleges and advocacy groups, helped spread this message.

By the time activists latched on to a 2009 rant by CNBC’s Rick Santelli, who raised the idea of a modern-day tea party, the field had been prepared. The American right knew who its enemy was, and conservative politicians, donors, and media – notably Fox News – lavished attention and support on tea party rallies to help the movement grow.

But “how do we account for the relative silence of the left?” asked Michael Kazin, a Georgetown University historian, in a recent New York Times opinion column.

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