Conventional wisdom has Ohio being vulnerable to a Democratic rollback in 2012 after a GOP sweep in 2010.  Approval ratings for Governor John Kasich have been low after his reforms of public-employee unions in a state where Big Labor is thought to have a wide reach.  However, a new Quinnipiac poll on a proposed right-to-work reform may indicate that their power is not as broad as first thought:

Despite the overwhelming victory by organized labor and its allies in repealing SB 5 in this past election, by 54 – 40 percent Ohio voters favor the idea of passing a “right-to-work” law that would ban workers from being required to join a union as a condition of employment, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. …

Gov. John Kasich’s job approval numbers remain poor, although they are getting better, as 40 percent of registered voters approve of how he is doing his job compared to 46 percent who disapprove of how he is running the Buckeye State. Those numbers are little changed from the negative 39 – 48 percent job approval rating in a January 19 survey by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University, but are better than the negative 36 – 52 percent approval rating in an October 25, 2011, poll.

“Given the assumption that the SB 5 referendum was a demonstration of union strength in Ohio, the 54 – 40 percent support for making Ohio a ‘right-to-work’ state does make one take notice,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “In the SB 5 referendum independent voters, who are generally the key to Ohio elections, voted with the pro-union folks to repeal the law many viewed as an effort to handicap unions. The data indicates that many of those same independents who stood up for unions this past November on SB 5 are standing up to unions by backing ‘right-to-work’ legislation.”

The key fight will be with independents, and so far they seem to be swinging against the unions. Independents support an RTW bill by 16 points, even wider than the general public, at 55/39. Democrats oppose it but not as strongly as one might imagine at 65/32.

With all other demographics, RTW has a broad base of support.  Majorities of both men and women and all age groups and levels of education support right-to-work legislation.  The only categories that would oppose such a bill would be Democrats,  black voters on a narrow 42/46 that is a virtual tie, and union households at 32/65.

If Kasich wanted to pursue union reform, he’d find himself in much better political position by pushing an RTW bill through the legislature this year.  Its broad popularity would put unions on the defensive to justify forced membership, closed shops, and mandatory dues payments.  That might erase some of the hard feelings lingering after the far-less-popular SB5 reforms that went down to defeat, and it would arguably have better results.

On the upcoming elections, the clouds may be parting at least a little for Republicans.  The satisfaction level of Ohio voters has begun rising at least incrementally, even if it’s still underwater at 43/56.  Last summer, the rating was 34/64, and in the fall it had actually declined to 29/71.