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How Occupy Wall Street is testing the next US president

While it’s too early to predict how Occupy Wall Street will affect local elections, presidential candidates have begun to recalibrate their campaigns to address the movement's challenges.

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If the movement sustains itself at its current level, she adds, “it’s going to be hard for politicians to avoid.”

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President Obama has already embraced the movement, validating frustrations about jobs and the state of the economy, says Sobieraj.

Some congressional candidates have adopted the language of the movement too. Elizabeth Warren “sounds like one of the protestors,” says Sobieraj, noting the Massachusetts Democratic Senate candidate's comments about the lack of accountability in financial institutions.

As the Occupy movement gains strength, politicians will have to strategize carefully, notes Carnegie Mellon University’s Kiron Skinner, co-author of “The Strategy of Campaigning: Lessons from Ronald Reagan and Boris Yeltsin.”

The role of the growing Occupy movement is important for politicians because it is providing a clear policy alternative to the ground staked out by the tea party position, Ms. Skinner says. The challenge “will entail reconciling two very clear and different positions about the role of government in the economy.”

And the politician that can reconcile these two very different positions will most likely be stronger than his or her competitor, she says.

At this stage in the 2010 midterm elections, many analysts questioned whether the tea party would have a significant impact, says Robin Lauermann, professor of politics at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa.

“They had a greater impact than some expected, though they have not coalesced enough to be the sole dominating influence for the 2012 GOP race," Ms. Lauermann. Though, she adds, "Much can happen in a year."

"As the Occupy movement endures and maintains its peaceable approach, it certainly has the potential to grow as a counterpoint in the upcoming elections," especially Lauermann says, if Obama can transform their dissatisfaction into votes.

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