PRINCETON, NJ — A slim majority of Americans, 53%, approve of labor unions, although approval remains on the low end of Gallup’s nearly 80-year trend on this question. Approval has been as high as 75% in the 1950s. Currently, 38% disapprove of unions.
At the same time Americans express greater approval than disapproval of unions, they widely support right-to-work laws. Those laws allow workers to hold jobs in unionized workplaces without joining a union. Currently, 10% of Americans identify as union members according to Gallup’s Aug. 7-10 poll.
In an update of a question asked in 1957, 71% of Americans said they would “vote for” a right-to-work law if they had the opportunity to do so, while 22% said they would vote against such a law. That is a slightly higher level of support than Gallup measured nearly 60 years ago.
The popularity of right-to-work laws may be a result of Americans’ greater agreement with a major argument put forth by right-to-work proponents than by one of the main arguments put forth by opponents of such laws. The poll finds 82% of Americans agreeing that “no American should be required to join any private organization, like a labor union, against his will,” a position advanced by right-to-work proponents. Pro-union forces partly oppose right-to-work laws because of the “free-rider” problem, with non-union workers benefitting as much as union workers when unions negotiate pay and benefit increases with employers. But by 64% to 32%, Americans disagree that workers should “have to join and pay dues to give the union financial support” because “all workers share the gains won by the labor union.”
Currently, 24 U.S. states have right-to-work laws in place, including Indiana and Michigan who passed theirs in 2012. The Indiana law’s fate is uncertain given recent legal challenges to it. The states with right-to-work laws tend to be Republican-leaning states, mostly in the South, Mountain West, and Plains areas of the country. That is consistent with the preferences of rank-and-file Republicans nationally, who disapprove of unions by 57% to 32%, and support right-to-work laws by 74% to 18%. Democrats, meanwhile, overwhelmingly approve of labor unions. Interestingly, though, most Democrats favor right-to-work laws, and their support nearly matches that of Republicans.
Democrats’ widespread approval of unions, and their support for right-to-work laws, appear at odds. It is possible they may be
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