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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Gallup: Public Image of Unions in Flux

According to the latest Gallup poll, unions also have some work to do in upgrading their image with the American public, As Steven Greenhouse reports in his New York Times article “A Challenge for Unions in Public Opinion,”

…A slim majority of Americans, 52 percent, approve of labor unions and that the difference in views between how Democrats and Republicans feel toward unions has reached record levels.
The Gallup poll, released on Thursday, found that the approval rate for unions was unchanged from 2010 and was up from 2009, when unions had the lowest approval rating, 48 percent, since Gallup began this survey in 1936.
Showing a huge partisan difference in views, the poll of 1,008 adults found that 78 percent of Democrats approve of unions, while just 26 percent of Republicans do, the lowest percentage ever for Republicans.

Greenhouse’s article also quotes Jeffrey M. Jones, managing editor for Gallup, “This could reflect a greater politicization of union issues given the fact that many state-level efforts to curb union influence were promoted by Republican governors often backed by a Republican-controlled legislature.” Jones also cites “…a draw in the court of public opinion, with labor unions neither gaining nor losing Americans’ support overall compared with last year.”
Well, sure. But it could also reflect lousy coverage of the leadership unions have provided in producing virtually all reforms benefiting workers. Greenhouse adds that union leaders note that “the approval rate was 65 percent less than a decade ago…conservative politicians and think tanks have been putting out a flood of negative information about organized labor.”
Nonetheless, there is some good news in the poll in terms of the trend line:

The Gallup poll found a strong rebound of Democrats’ and independents’ views toward unions over the last two years. Approval among Democrats rose to 78 percent from 66 percent in 2009, and to 52 percent from 44 percent among independents…

But Greenhouse reports that the good news is offset with an 8-point drop in approval among Republicans, to 26 percent from 34 percent last year — up from 29 percent in 2009. This may reflect the GOP’s superior echo chamber.
It’s not hard to see a case for unions doing more public education in this poll. What may be less obvious is the challenge facing the mainstream media on Labor Day 2011 — to do a better job of reporting on the gains won by unions, in modern times, as well as during the last century.
Strengthening the labor movement is essential for empowering the Democratic party. But it is also the key to reducing the growing gap in income and wealth between working families and the rich, and for restoring the economic vitality of America.

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