JONATHAN COHN AUGUST 13, 2010
Americans are increasingly telling unions to hit the road. Approval ratings for unions are near a 70-year-low at:
That number is up from last year's record-low 48 percent, but as polling data from Gallup shows, it's well down from historical norms. In 1936, when Gallup began polling on the issue, 72 percent of respondents approved. From the 1970s through 2008, approval tended to hover around 60 percent. Also unusual in the newest results is the high disapproval rating--41 percent. Ignoring last year's record, the previous highest disapproval recorded is 35 percent, and that came in 1981 during a recession.
So what's happened to make people turn on unions? Here's Gallup's explanation:
With many Americans out of work and struggling to find work, organized labor groups' missions may not seem appropriate or even fair as they might have when jobs are more plentiful. There is some precedence for an economic-related downturn in union approval, as Gallup found a mild drop in union approval during the late 1970s and early 1980s when the U.S. economy was in poor shape.
The more negative appraisal of unions the last two years could be due to the belief from union opponents that unions are likely to benefit or are benefitting from the policies of the Obama administration, including recent legislation providing aid to states that will preserve thousands of education and public sector jobs.
That seems like a plausible explanation. Opponents of the recent state-aid bill (which is expected to keep a few hundred thousand people working) denounced it as a "union bailout bill." And the auto-industry rescue has been painted as a giveaway to autoworkers' unions. I don't think either claim is accurate, but against that backdrop, it's not surprising that people take a less favorable view of unions. The stimulus bill helped almost everyone, but these smaller measures likely strike many people as unfair.
Here's Gallup's chart: