Buoyed by Gains Among Republicans, Union Approval at Highest Levels Since 2003

Gallup credits Donald Trump for rise in union support among Republicans

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka
AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka / Getty Images
September 5, 2017

Labor unions are enjoying their highest levels of approval since 2003 despite recent setbacks in organizing elections.

More than 60 percent of American adults approve of labor unions, according to Gallup, which has measured the popularity of unions since 1936. The findings represented a resurgence for the labor movement after support dipped to 48 percent in 2009—the first time that union support dropped below 50 percent—though it still lags behind union approval over the last several decades.

"After plummeting in 2009, union approval remained lower than in its heyday but began climbing," Gallup said.

Political partisanship plays a large role in shaping support for labor unions with Democrats, at 81 percent, about twice as likely as Republicans to support them. Republican support has risen from 26 percent in 2009 to 42 percent in 2017. Gallup said the election of Donald Trump may be responsible for the increase in popularity. Trump has made blue-collar job creation a top priority, championing manufacturing and infrastructure spending, as well as his opposition to free trade deals, a position he shares with unions.

"Republicans' approval of unions rose since last year, possibly due to the presidency of Republican Donald Trump. Even though Trump is not an avid supporter of unions, his rhetoric about restoring U.S. manufacturing jobs and cordial relations with some top labor union leaders at the start of his term may have softened Republican attitudes about unions," Gallup said. "It is possible that Republicans may now perceive unions as less threatening because Trump is unlikely to expand their power."

America's largest labor union, AFL-CIO, found similar support for labor unions among workers. A union poll, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, found that 54 percent of Americans would join a union if given the opportunity. The poll also found that 72 percent of people think unions are good for the economy, while 28 percent consider them bad.

"The AFL-CIO has played lead roles in the fights to expand access to paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave for all working people," the AFL-CIO said in a blog post. "It should come as no surprise that a majority (54%) of working people would vote to join a union tomorrow if given the opportunity."

The high levels of approval have not translated into success in the real world, however. AFL-CIO affiliate United Auto Workers lost a historic election at a Nissan plant in right-to-work Mississippi following a Justice Department indictment of a deceased union official's wife in connection to an embezzlement scheme. Union membership rates are at all-time lows. Just 6.4 percent of private sector workers belong to labor groups, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while 10.7 percent of all workers are union members.

"Americans remain more pessimistic than optimistic about unions' future. Forty-six percent say they think unions will become weaker than they are today, while 27 percent say they will be the same and 22 percent say stronger," Gallup said.

Published under: Unions