Thursday, March 03, 2011


As Talking Points Memo has pointed out, that new Rasmussen poll of Wisconsin voters shows quite a bit of support for the unions in their battle with Governor Scott Walker -- and reveals an interesting age split. As TPM's Jon Terbush puts it:

... the poll shows younger voters being generally more supportive of unions and collective bargaining rights than those in older demographics....

For example, 63% of respondents aged 18-39 opposed weakening collective bargaining rights, while 46% of respondents in both the 40-64 year-old and 65+ demographics said the same.

Terbush writes:

That's a reversal of what is often assumed to be the case -- younger voters tilting liberal on social issues, while older voters lean liberal on the labor issues.

At Balloon Juice, Kay writes:

Younger people, who have heard virtually no pro-labor voices in media and perhaps don’t belong to a union, seem to be attracted to the general ideas behind unions. I’m wondering if that has anything to do with their experience in Great Depression II. And this isn’t very young, exclusively. It’s 18 to 39, so it’s working people.

Or, maybe, they’re just repelled by Walker as an individual and adopt whatever stance is opposite his?

I think it's about more than just the last couple of years of economic hardship. Think about how old these people are. They were born between 1972 and 1993. They came to political consciousness, at the earliest, in the middle of the Reagan era, years after Reagan broke the air traffic controllers' union. The key point is, they've never seen a successful major strike. They've never seen American unions wield any power whatsoever.

How do you sell younger people on the notion of "greedy unions" and "union thugs" when all they've ever seen is union shrinkage and union givebacks?

I'm in my early fifties. I still have an LP from when I was a kid that's a collection of bits from the first season of Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. There's a fake news roundup on the album that includes a joke about the United Auto Workers going on strike to demand a one-day work week, while Walter Reuther, "representing the union welfare fund, purchased General Motors." (This was back when GM was the biggest company in America.)

That was a big yuck back then. Unions called real strikes in those days; real shutdowns resulted, and real gains were obtained.

But that's never happened in my adult life in America. (UPDATE: Well, obviously it's happened in sports and entertainment, but not among workers in ordinary, relatable fields.) Yet right-wingers are so enamored of their union-boss/union-thug set of caricatures, and are so used to playing to an elderly audience, that they've forgotten that.

(UPDATE: I'm reminded in comments about the 1997 UPS strike -- yes, a win, but not exactly a huge win, and in any case an isolated incident.)


By the way, I'm taking this Rasmussen poll seriously because ol' Scott seems to be using it to warn fellow right-wingers about effective vs. ineffective spin:

Among those asked about the state budget deficit, 52% supported the Democrats and 44% supported the Governor. Most of those 50 and over support the Governor, 40-somethings are evenly divided, and those under 40 support the Democrats.

Among those asked about weakening collective bargaining rights, 56% supported the union and 41% supported the Governor. There is a similar age dynamic on this question....

Collectively, the data suggests a fluid situation. If the debate is seen to focus primarily on efforts to weaken collective bargaining rights, Governor Walker is in a weak position. If the debate is seen to focus primarily on efforts to reduce the state budget deficit, the Governor may be on stronger ground.

I'm not sure how, but expect the right's framing to change in response to this.

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