Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Earlier today I expressed pessimism about the public's response to protests by government workers in Wisconsin and elsewhere -- but maybe I was being too pessimistic. Like Steve Benen, I was waiting to see an independent poll about Wisconsin, and the first one we're seeing is quite heartening:

The public strongly opposes laws taking away the collective bargaining power of public employee unions as a way to ease state financial troubles, according to a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll.

The poll found that 61% would oppose a law in their state similar to one being considered in Wisconsin, compared with 33% who would favor such a law.

...53% oppose reducing pay or benefits for government workers while 44% are in favor....

The polls I quoted suggested that the public is much more lukewarm toward unions, if not a bit hostile -- but those polls were conducted before the current battles in Wisconsin, Indiana, and elsewhere.

I wonder if the right to be in a union is like the right to have an abortion -- something about which a lot of people are ambivalent, or even disdainful ... until there seems to be a serious threat to take the right away.

I've quoted this 2000 L.A. Times article a few times, but I'll quote it again:

Typically when abortion rights are threatened, support for legal abortion rises, according to polling experts.

In the last decade, for example, previous polls show support for Roe peaking at 56% around 1991, when the decision was under attack across the country. Most states had pushed measures through their legislatures that either put strict limits on abortion or even banned it altogether.

In 1992, the Supreme Court issued a decision upholding Roe, with some modifications. The same year, Clinton, an abortion rights supporter, was elected president. Both events appeared to reassure people there would be no dramatic changes in abortion policy. Subsequently, support for Roe began to decline.

In a 1996 poll, 46% of respondents endorsed Roe vs. Wade. By 1999, support had slipped slightly to 43%, the same level as in the current poll.

And so we saw a drop in support for abortion rights shortly after Barack Obama took office:

But I guarantee that the numbers will change as soon as it seems that abortion really might be made illegal. And maybe union rights are the same -- in which case, the efforts by Republicans to strip workers of bargaining rights may be a massive overreach, and (for them) a disastrous misreading of the public's thinking.

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