Poll Finds Support for Labor Unions Remains Up Compared to Past Years

Union supporters demonstrate in New York City, during June 2018.

Union supporters demonstrate in New York City, during June 2018. shutterstock.


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The Gallup survey results also highlight partisan differences.

Support in the U.S. for labor unions remains on par this year with where it was last year, and up compared to where it stood earlier in the 2000s, according to new poll results.

But the survey, conducted by Gallup, also found that there are sharp party line divisions between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to views on organized labor.

Overall, 62 percent of Americans approve of labor unions, the poll results show. Last year, the figure was 61 percent.

Gallup says that prior to 2017, public support for labor unions had not exceeded 60 percent since 2003. Since the 1970s, the percentage of U.S. adults approving of labor unions has averaged 58 percent and hit a low of 48 percent in 2009, the pollster also says.

The latest poll found that 80 percent of Democrats approve of unions, compared to 45 percent of Republicans. Forty seven percent of Republicans, meanwhile, disapprove of labor unions, while the same figure for Democrats is just 15 percent.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that was widely seen as a blow to state and local government public employee unions. It said fees the unions had been collecting from non-members were an unconstitutional infringement on the right to free speech.

Earlier this month, Missouri voters overturned a “right-to-work” law that would have enabled workers at private companies to opt out of paying union fees.

Gallup notes in an article about the findings that enthusiasm for organized labor tends to recede at times of economic weakness, when unemployment rates are higher.

For instance, when the unemployment rate was around 9.5 percent during the Great Recession, 42 percent of survey respondents said they’d prefer unions have less influence. With unemployment now around 4 percent, 29 percent of percent of people responded that way.

Even though the poll found that a majority of Americans currently support labor unions, views on the future of union strength are more divided, with 51 percent of respondents saying that they thought unions would become weaker going forward.

The poll was conducted by phone between Aug. 1 and 12, and relied on responses from 1,024 adults in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. Results based on the full sample of respondents, have a margin of sampling error +/- 4 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. More information on the poll results can be found here.

Bill Lucia is a Senior Reporter for Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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