Sixty Percent of Americans Approve of Labor Unions

by Joseph Carroll

Little changed in recent years

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Gallup's annual Work and Education survey finds little change during the past several years in Americans' opinions about labor unions, with 60% of Americans now approving of unions. Less than one in five Americans say labor unions in this country will become stronger in the future, and only about one in three say they would like to see labor unions have more influence. The percentage of Americans who say they want unions to have more influence is on the high end of what Gallup has measured in the past eight years, but down slightly after peaking in 2006. Only about 1 in 10 Americans say they personally belong to a labor union.


Public Approval of Labor Unions

According to the Aug. 13-16, 2007, poll, 60% of Americans say they approve of labor unions, while 32% disapprove. The public's approval rating of labor unions has not shown much significant change in the past four years. From a longer term perspective, a majority of Americans have consistently approved of labor unions since Gallup first asked this question more than 70 years ago in 1936 (making this one of Gallup's longest-running trend questions). The highpoint in approval occurred in the mid-1950s, with a 75% rating in 1953 and again in 1957. The low point was 55% in 1979 and 1981.  

Since Americans' overall approval of unions has shown little change in recent years, Gallup combined the results of its past three surveys -- from August 2005, August 2006, and August 2007 -- to better understand which groups of Americans are more inclined than others to positively assess labor unions.

Overall, these results show that 9% of Americans are personally members of a labor union. Another 7% have a spouse or other household members who belong to a union.

As would be expected, labor union approval is much higher among those residing in union households (82%) than those who are not living in union households (55%).  

Labor unions have historically been aligned with the Democratic Party, and the current analysis underscores this relationship. Twenty-two percent of Democrats reside in a labor union household, compared with 17% of independents and 12% of Republicans. Further, Democrats (78%) across the country are significantly more likely than independents (58%) or Republicans (41%) to say they approve of labor unions. 

The Future of Unions

The poll also updated trends that ask Americans about the future strength and influence of unions in this country.

Just 19% of Americans say labor unions will be stronger in the future than they are today, while 45% say they will be weaker and 31% say they will be the same as today. Perceptions that unions will become stronger in the future have gradually declined since this question was first asked in 1999; but still, the highest percentage of Americans ever saying that unions would become stronger was 25% (in 1999).  

Americans residing in union households are more likely than those living in non-union households to say unions will be stronger in the future -- which is not surprising -- but a plurality of both groups say unions will be weaker.

Nearly half of Republicans say unions will be weaker in the future. Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say unions will be stronger in the future, but still only 26% of Democrats share that view.

Future Strength of Labor Unions
Results by Union Household and Party Affiliation
Aug. 13-16, 2007

Stronger

Same

Weaker

%

 

%

Union household?

Yes

28

31

38

No

18

31

46

 

 

 

Party affiliation

Republicans

15

33

48

Independents

17

28

51

Democrats

26

35

34

When asked about their own preferences, 35% of Americans say they would like to see labor unions in this country have more influence than they currently have today, while 28% say less influence and 33% say the same amount of influence. Last year marked the high point in public preferences for more influential unions (38%), but even with a slight decline this year, support for more influential unions is on the high end of what Gallup has observed since 1999.  

A slim majority of those residing in union households (52%) say they would like unions to have more influence in the future; only 32% of those in non-union households say this.

More than half of Democrats believe unions should have more influence in the future, something with which only 16% of Republicans agree.

Future Influence of Labor Unions
Results by Union Household and Party Affiliation
Aug. 13-16, 2007

More influence


Same

Less influence

%

%

%

Union household?

Yes

52

32

14

No

32

34

30

 

 

 

Party affiliation

Republicans

16

36

46

Independents

35

33

28

Democrats

53

32

10

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,019 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Aug. 13-16, 2007. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

11. Do you approve or disapprove of labor unions?

Approve

Disapprove

No opinion

%

%

%

2007 Aug 13-16

60

32

8

2006 Aug 7-10

59

29

12

2005 Aug 8-11

58

33

9

2004 Aug 9-11

59

34

7

2003 Aug 4-6

65

29

6

2002 Aug 5-8

58

33

9

2001 Aug 16-19

60

32

8

1999 Aug 24-26

65

28

7

1999 Mar 5-7

66

29

5

1997 Aug 12-13

60

31

9

1991 Jul 18-21

60

30

10

1986 Jul 11-14

59

30

11

1985 Apr 12-15

58

27

15

1981 Aug 14-17

55

35

11

1979 May 4-7

55

33

12

1978 Jan 6-9

59

31

10

1972 Dec 8-11

60

25

15

1972 Mar 24-27

60

27

13

1967 Sep 14-19

66

23

11

1965 May 13-18

71

19

11

1963 Jan 11-16

68

22

10

1962 Jun 28-Jul 3

64

24

11

1961 Sep 21-26

69

20

11

1961 May 4-9

63

23

14

1961 Jan 12-17

70

18

12

1959 Aug 20-25

73

14

12

1959 Jan 7-12

68

19

13

1958 Oct 15-20

64

21

15

1957 Aug 29-Sep 4

65

18

17

1957 Apr 6-11

74

17

9

1957 Jan 17-22

75

14

11

1953 Oct 9-14

75

18

7

1948 Dec 10-15

64

21

15

1947 Jul 4-9

64

25

11

1941

61

30

9

1936

72

20

8

D18. Is anyone living in your household a member of a labor union?

Yes

No

No opinion

%

%

%

2007 Aug 13-16

15

84

1

2006 Aug 7-10

17

81

2

2005 Aug 8-11

19

81

*

2004 Aug 9-11

18

82

*

2003 Aug 4-6

18

82

*

2002 Aug 5-8

14

85

1

* Less than 0.5%

D18a. (Asked of those who say someone in their household is a member of a labor union) Are you a member of a labor union, or does some other member of your household belong to a labor union?


Respondent in labor union

Other household member in labor union



Both in labor union


Not a member of labor union



No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2007 Aug 13-16

8

7

1

84

*

2006 Aug 7-10

9

7

1

81

2

2005 Aug 8-11

10

8

1

81

*

2004 Aug 9-11

10

7

1

82

*

2003 Aug 4-6

9

8

1

82

*

2002 Aug 5-8

6

7

1

85

1

* Less than 0.5%

12. Thinking about the future, do you think labor unions in this country will become -- [ROTATED: stronger than they are today, the same as today, (or) weaker than they are today]?

Stronger

Same

Weaker

No opinion

%

%

%

%

2007 Aug 13-16

19

31

45

5

2005 Aug 8-11

19

25

53

3

2004 Aug 9-11

21

34

41

4

2002 Aug 5-8

23

35

36

6

2001 Aug 16-19

24

30

40

6

1999 Aug 24-26

25

28

44

3

13. Would you, personally, like to see labor unions in the United States have -- [ROTATED: more influence than they have today, the same amount as today, (or) less influence than they have today]?

More influence

Same amount

Less influence

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2007 Aug 13-16

35

33

28

4

2005 Aug 8-11

38

29

30

3

2004 Aug 9-11

29

36

32

3

2002 Aug 5-8

27

36

31

6

2001 Aug 16-19

30

35

31

4

1999 Aug 24-26

30

36

32

2

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