Have PEU reform efforts produced a backlash?

posted at 12:15 pm on April 1, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

That’s what recent polls from Gallup and the New York Times/CBS suggest, according to an analysis today in Politico from Robert Kuttner.  Gallup released its results this morning, showing that a plurality of adults choose public-employee unions over state governors in battles over cost control:

With political battles over state budgets and collective bargaining still playing out to varying degrees in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Maine, and several other states, 48% of Americans say they agree more with the unions in these disputes, while 39% agree more with the governors. Thirteen percent favor neither side or have no opinion. …

A few subgroups of Americans show particularly broad support for unions in these battles. Democrats give unions their highest support, at 70%, followed by young adults — those aged 18 to 34 — at 61%. A majority of residents in the East, 52%, favor unions, the only region to cross the 50% support threshold.

Similar percentages of men and women take the unions’ side (46% and 50%, respectively); however, women are significantly less likely than men to favor the governors (33% vs. 45%) and significantly more likely to have no opinion.

Republicans, to no one’s surprise, back the governors 65/25.  Independents tend to back the unions, although it’s a fairly even split, 40/45, while Democrats overwhelmingly side with PEUs, 19/70.  Kuttner warns that this could start a rollback of GOP gains in state legislatures from the 2010 midterms:

Republicans may ultimately find that it was a strategic blunder to demonize unions. As more of the middle class feels the economic vulnerabilities of the working class, Americans are giving unions a second look.

Are they really?  First, no new organizing movement seems to be sweeping the country in the private sector, which is what would qualify as a “second look.”  Over the last several months, with or without PEU reforms, state and local governments have reduced headcount nationwide by over 400,000 in the last two years.  That’s not exactly a pro-union movement.  If anything, it’s more of a potential boundary setting on the pace and scope of PEU reforms

But even that’s arguable.  Survey USA conducted a poll in one of the most union-friendly states in the country, my state of Minnesota, and found some fairly surprising support for curtailing PEU prerogatives.  While opposing the budget-reform bill pushed by Scott Walker in Wisconsin as a solution in Minnesota, 38/55, there’s plenty of support for “right to work” legislation — in fact, it’s more than 2-1 at 63/27.  That’s hardly a “second look at unions,” especially in a state known for its progressive politics.

The issue in these battles have to do with who controls public policy: the voters or the PEUs.  Republicans may need to do a better job of telling that story, because the electorate is receptive to it when it’s divorced from the hyperbolic media spin about “collective bargaining rights” and the supposed attack on the middle class.


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