A new poll finds that Americans have mixed views on unions and the impact the decline in union membership has had on workers.

On April 27, 2015, the Pew Research Center, described as “a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world,” released results of its recent survey of 1,500 adults nationwide from varying demographic backgrounds between March 25th and 29th of numerous questions regarding attitudes about unions and workers’ rights to unionize.

Although the number of unionized workers in the United States has decreased during the past 30 years, a greater number of those polled hold a favorable view of unions (48%) than unfavorable (39%).  Asked about the long-term decrease in union membership, 45% deemed it “mostly bad,” while 43% believed it was “mostly good.”  However, in what appears to be a conflicting result, 52% of those polled thought the long-term decrease in union membership had a “mostly bad” effect for workers, while 40% believed it had a “mostly good” effect.

Support for the right of workers to unionize varies considerably depending on the industry:

  • factory and manufacturing workers – 82%
  • public transportation workers – 74%
  • police and firefighters – 72%
  • public school teachers – 71%
  • private sector supermarket and retail sales workers – 68%
  • fast-food workers – 62%

Not surprisingly, the survey disclosed a stark difference in how Democrats and Republicans view unions.  While 59% of Democrats believed the decline in union representation was “mostly bad” for America, 62% of Republicans were of the opinion the decline was “mostly good.”

Similar variations in opinion were revealed across various demographics.  As between men and women, the numbers were close, with 48% of men and 47% of women having favorable views of labor organizations.  However, 60% of blacks polled, “who are more likely than other racial and ethnic groups to be union members” (according to the survey), had favorable views of unions, while only 49% of Hispanics and 45% of whites did.  The poll also showed that lower income households had a more favorable view of unions than higher income households: 54% of households earning less than $30,000 viewed unions favorably as compared to 45% of households earning $75,000 or more.  The South was the geographic region with the least favorable view of unions. Only 41% of people polled there viewed unions favorably. A majority (55%) of Midwesterners surveyed held favorable views of unions, followed by 50% of those in the Northeast and 49% of those in the West.

The poll results suggest that despite a steady decline in union membership over the last three decades, in general, Americans favor unions, at least in specific industries, but, according to the report, the degree of “favorable opinion can be sharply divided by demographic indicators such as ethnicity, income level, political affiliation and geography.”