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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Abramowitz: Declining Influence of Union Voters Challenges Dems

Those who are wondering about the effects of the latest wave of Republican union-busting on union voters should read Alan I. Abramowitz’s column at Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball. Abramowitz, a member of the TDS Advisory Board and author of “The Disappearing Center: Engaged Citizens, Polarization and American Democracy,” provides an informative analysis of union members’ recent voting patterns and party i.d. data.
Acknowledging that unions are influential because of the money and turnout manpower they provide for Democrats, Abramowitz then presents data demonstrating that union influence as a voting block is small and declining: “In 1952, 28% of voters were members of union households; in 2008, only 13% of voters were members of union households.” In terms of party identification, he explains:

…Attachment to the Democratic Party among voters in union households peaked in the 1960s. At that time, 69% of union voters identified with the Democratic Party compared with 51% of non-union voters. By the first decade of the 21st century, however, Democratic identification among union voters had fallen to 58%compared with 48% among non-union voters. While union voters remained considerably more attached to the Democratic Party than non-union voters, the gap between the two groups had shrunk considerably due mainly to declining Democratic identification among union voters.

Breaking it down by race, church attendance and marital status, Abramowitz presents data in charts and tables and adds,

The decline in Democratic identification since the 1960s has been much greater among some types of union voters than among others, however. Among African-Americans, who have gone from 10% of union voters in the 1960s to 13% today, there has been no decline in Democratic identification. Between 89% and 93% of African-American union voters identified with the Democratic Party throughout this time period. Among white union voters, however, Democratic identification fell from 66% in the ’60s to 51% in the 2000s. Moreover, the decline in Democratic identification among white union voters has been greatest among socially conservative groups such as regular churchgoers and married men. Among regular churchgoers, Democratic identification fell from 67% in the ’60s to 40% in the 2000s and, among married men, Democratic identification fell from 68% in the ’60s to 44% in the 2000s.
…Evidence from the 2008 National Exit Poll indicates that even in an election in which the economy was the dominant issue, both church attendance and gun ownership exerted a substantially stronger influence than union membership on candidate preference among white voters. It remains to be seen whether an increase in the salience of issues affecting unions such as the collective bargaining rights of public employees will alter this pattern in 2012.

Abramowitz’s findings may be discouraging to Democrats, but he leaves open the possibility that the attacks on collective bargaining rights could sway union voters to support Dems in greater numbers. In addition, unions may be poised for a new era of growth, if only because we may be approaching the point at which millions of workers begin to realize that unions provide the best hope for job security, decent wages and benefits.

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