Republicans suddenly seem to like unions again

Published Sept. 4, 2017

Unions are enjoying a popularity surge, with more than 61 percent of adults in the United States saying they now approve of organized labor — a five-point jump from last year, according to a new Gallup poll.

That's the highest approval rating since 2003, when 65 percent of respondents said the same, but it comes as union membership is falling.

About 14.6 million workers belonged to unions last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a 240,000-member drop from 2015.

Though union ranks are shrinking, acceptance among conservatives seems to be rising, per the Gallup survey, which polled 1,000 people nationwide between Aug. 2 and 6.

Forty-two percent of Republicans said they approved of unions, a jump from 2011, when only 26 percent of Republicans showed support.

Among Democrats, 81 percent of Democrats approved of unions, compared to 78 percent in 2011. Support among independents has also climbed, reaching 61 percent from 52 percent six years ago.

Joseph Slater, a law professor who follows labor issues at the University of Toledo College of Law, said one reason for the shift could be that more blue-collar workers have sided with the GOP since the 2016 campaign.

"Trump ran as an economic populist, and he was not himself anti-union," Slater said.

President Donald Trump speaks often of boosting factory workers. He managed to flip counties across the Rust Belt — notably in Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan — which felt disproportionate job loss as plants have shuttered, thanks to automation and foreign competition.

Young people displayed the most enthusiasm for unions in the Gallup survey. The poll found that 69 percent of respondents age 18 to 34 said they backed unions, while 57 percent of people older than 55 did, too.

"Caring about workers seems to be much more prevalent," said Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C.