Americans oppose weakening the bargaining rights of public employee unions by a margin of nearly two to one: 60 percent to 33 percent. While a slim majority of Republicans favored taking away some bargaining rights, they were outnumbered by large majorities of Democrats and independents who said they opposed weakening them. Those surveyed said they opposed, 56 percent to 37 percent, cutting the pay or benefits of public employees to reduce deficits, breaking down along similar party lines. A majority of respondents who have no union members living in their households opposed both cuts in pay or benefits and taking away the collective bargaining rights of public employees.
Governors in both parties have been making the case that public workers are either overpaid or have overly generous health and pension benefits. But 61 percent of those polled — including just over half of Republicans — said they thought the salaries and benefits of most public employees were either “about right” or “too low” for the work they do.
Fully 62 percent of independents (and 70 percent of Democrats) oppose weakening collective bargaining. As usual, the question provides no background on PEUs and why they present a unique problem for state budgets, especially when there’s a Democrat in the governor’s office:
On the other hand, the question about cutting public workers’ pay does explicitly mention state budget deficits — and there’s still heavy majority support for workers:
A near majority (49 percent) also supports letting cops and firefighters retire after 25 years with full pensions even if they’re in their 40s — which, in some cases for people of average lifespans, would mean more pay during retirement than while they were on the job. CBS, which co-sponsored the poll, asked Chris Christie for reaction. Quote:
Christie, who has been critical of teachers’ unions in his state, said the collective bargaining story was “entertaining,” though he said it wasn’t an issue in his state or most states. He then told a CBS News reporter that he was “sure you worded the poll in a way that kept [the story] going.”
“I’m the governor, I think I’ve got a better idea on public opinion in my state than CBS News does to tell you the truth,” he said. “If not, Katie Couric should run for governor of New Jersey.”
That’s cute, and I’m sure some will quibble with the sample (36D/26R/36I and 19L/37M/36C), but even if you tweaked it to add a few more Republicans, these numbers wouldn’t shift dramatically. And why should they? Remember this graph from Pew’s poll on America’s budget crunch a few weeks ago?
Up and down the line, not a single item draws a clear majority in favor of cuts. And what about this one?
Even tea partiers go wobbly when it comes to cutting spending on education and Social Security. For whatever reason — misinformation or simple denial — the public isn’t remotely serious yet when it comes to making painful choices on spending. When asked if budget cuts are a good thing in the abstract, they’re plenty supportive, but start identifying specific programs and industries that’ll have to make do with less and those cold feet start turning icy. If you can’t even get 50 percent to say they’re prepared to cut foreign aid, how on earth will you get 50 percent to support cuts to the “working man” in the form of public employees?
I don’t know what it’ll take to build popular support for greater austerity. Maybe nothing. Maybe we’re going to have to elect a bunch of Republicans who are fully prepared to sacrifice their careers by taking tough but necessary votes on the budget. Here’s Christie from yesterday’s “Face the Nation” gently reminding viewers that collective bargaining rights aren’t inscribed on the Mt. Sinai tablets.