Worth Discussing

Labor Union Favorability Declines

Resurgent Republic | February 24, 2010

Fewer people hold a favorable opinion of labor unions today than did three years ago, and the drop in public opinion is more than 10 percentage points in nearly all demographic groups, according to a new Pew Research survey.  Forty-one percent have a favorable opinion of labor unions, a 17 point decrease, while 42 percent hold an unfavorable opinion, an 11 point increase.

Independents have flipped in dramatic fashion and now give a net negative unfavorable rating when asked about labor unions, 38 to 46 percent, compared to a  majority favorable opinion three years ago, 54 to 34 percent.  In this regard, Independents align more closely with Republicans (29 percent favorable) than Democrats (56 percent favorable).

The largest decline in favorability is measured among those age 65 and older (-31 points), those with income below $30,000 (-22 points) and those between the ages 30 to 49 (-21 points)

With the exception of those living in a union household, only three cohorts have maintained a majority favorable opinion: those between the ages 18 to 29 (53 percent), identified Democrats (56 percent) and blacks (59 percent).  These groups, however, were still impacted by the overall decline and each had a double digit decrease in favorability.

The new survey provides quantitative support behind what our focus group series found in August 2009.  When asked about national labor unions, Independents who supported Barack Obama for president largely felt they had lost relevance, and some Independents said national labor unions were out of touch with their values.

The public opinion shift is likely a significant reason why the Democrat-controlled Congress is hesitant to pass card check legislation, which in effect dismantles the secret ballot process in order to freeze declining union membership.  In addition the steady decline in favorability cannot be comforting to those elected officials closely tied to the national labor union agenda.

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Filed under: Independent Voters, News, and Labor Unions