By DON McINTOSH, Associate Editor
Though Republican victories in the 2010 elections will put the union Congressional agenda in jeopardy, labor leaders took some consolation from a pair of election night polls commissioned by the national AFL-CIO.
According to the poll, voters punished Democrats for failing to rescue the economy, but that didn’t mean that voters were endorsing Republican economic proposals.
Hart Research Associates, a public opinion research firm, conducted phone interviews with a random sample of 801 voters in the 100 most competitive U.S. House districts as identified by the Cook Political Report.
For respondents, the number one issue was “jobs and the economy.” And fully 84 percent said they were dissatisfied with economic conditions, including 56 percent of those polled who said they were “very dissatisfied” — the most negative answer the poll offered as an option. Nearly 3 in 10 voters (28 percent) had lost a job, or had someone in their family lose a job, in the last two years. Even more — 40 percent — had pay or hours reduced for someone in their household. Of those who said they were “very dissatisfied” with the economy, 70 percent voted for the Republican candidate for U.S. House.
Alongside AFL-CIO president Rich Trumka, Hart Research partner Guy Molyneux explained the poll results in a Nov. 3 conference call for reporters.
“The real problem for Democrats trying to hold onto these seats,” Molyneux said, “is that there’s massive economic dissatisfaction, and yet only 30 percent said they believe the Democrats had a clear plan for strengthening the economy and creating jobs.”
But worth noting, Molyneux said: Only 35 percent felt Republicans had a clear plan.
“The American people are angry,” said the AFL-CIO’s Trumka, “and for good reason. They’ve felt the pain of economic collapse and paid for it with their jobs, their homes and often their hope.”
“This election was about the economy and jobs, plain and simple,” Trumka said. “It was a mandate to fix the economy and create jobs. It wasn’t a mandate for the policies most Republicans campaigned on.”
The Hart poll backs up that assertion, because it shows that most voters, even those voting Republican, weren’t familiar with the Republican agenda. In the poll, 67 percent said they knew little or nothing about the Republican agenda or plans, as outlined in documents like “A Pledge to America.” Even among those who voted for the Republican, 64 percent said they knew little or nothing about the Republican agenda.
And, when asked about several specific proposals Republicans have made, majorities in the poll said they would oppose them:
- 66 percent were against cutting taxes on those making more than $250,000 a year;
- 67 percent of voters, and 55 percent of Republican voters, were against repealing the recent Wall Street financial regulation law; and
- 88 percent of voters, and 83 percent of Republican voters, were against repealing the part of the health insurance reform that prevents insurance companies from denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions.
On the other hand, when asked about specific economic proposals that the AFL-CIO has pushed for, majorities said they would support those proposals: 77 percent were in favor of investing in rebuilding roads, bridges, schools, and energy systems as a way to create jobs, and 65 percent favor continuing federal unemployment insurance benefits for jobless Americans.
And voters were more concerned that Democrats and President Obama have done too much to help banks and Wall Street (43 percent) than that they have imposed too many regulations on business (34 percent).
The second nationwide poll, of 807 AFL-CIO-affiliate union members who voted, demonstrated once again that union members were much more likely than other voters to vote Democratic. For U.S. House races, 64 percent of union members voted for the Democrat, compared with 45 percent for the public at large.
Molyneux said union voters were better informed, and he attributed that to unions contacting members at home and on the job. Of the union members polled, 74 percent said they got election information from a union newspaper, magazine, or newsletter; 72 percent from a union mailer to their home; 48 percent from a recorded phone call; 37 a live phone call; 25 percent a flier at work; 25 percent from e-mail; 15 percent were contacted by a steward or other member at work; 11 percent visited a union web site, and 8 percent got in-person contact from a union member at home.
But the polls also showed that one group of voters was especially unhappy with the Democrats: the white working class. In the swing district poll, 58 percent of white non-college-educated voters chose the Republican U.S. House candidate; and the figure was 67 percent for white men without a college degree.
Union membership lessened but did not erase the trend: Across the country, 50 percent of white non-college graduate union members voted Republican.
The survey had a margin of error of ±3.5 percentage points. More details of the poll results are available here.
Though the party in charge of the U.S. House will change in January, Trumka said the union agenda will remain the same.
“Our agenda is jobs, jobs, jobs, and we’ll be pushing everybody, including the new Republican majority to create jobs. And if they do create jobs, we will stand with them.”
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