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Public Opinion On Labor Unions Has Remained High For Decades

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Last week, a majority of Amazon workers at a warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., voted against unionizing. There was a lot of national interest in this vote because it was the largest push Amazon has ever seen, and it could have set a precedent for their other facilities in the U.S. To talk about this and how public opinion on labor unions has changed over the years, I'm joined now by Gallup editor-in-chief and host of The Gallup Podcast, Mohamed Younis.

Welcome.

MOHAMED YOUNIS: It's so great to be here.

CHANG: It's great to have you. Well, Gallup has been tracking public opinion on labor unions since the 1930s, right?

YOUNIS: Absolutely. We started asking Americans just a basic question - do you approve or disapprove of labor unions? - back in 1936. Seventy-two percent of Americans at the time approved. Fast forward to today or at least last year when we asked this question, 65% of Americans approved of labor unions. So overall, Ailsa, it's been a pretty consistent pattern of a majority approval, with some exceptions that we can definitely dig into.

CHANG: Well, as for the people who do tend to support unions, who are they, like, when it comes to age and region of the country?

YOUNIS: Young people are the most likely to have a high approval rating of unions. Those who are 18 to 34 have a 68% approval rating of unions. The older age groups are actually more likely to say they are members of a union, but their approval rating also is about in that 60s range. The real difference is along party ID or political identification, where Democrats - about 8 in 10 say they approve of unions, 6 in 10 independents and only 4 in 10 Republicans, although that is an improvement from 2009, when it was down at about 30%.

CHANG: OK. Well, let's talk about the specific Amazon warehouse vote in Bessemer, Ala., now, where a majority of workers, as we said, voted not to unionize. Were you surprised by that vote?

YOUNIS: Well, based on the data, we shouldn't be surprised. And I'll tell you why. Across many years now, what we've found regionally in the United States is that the Eastern region, speaking broadly, tends to be more positive on unions and also have a higher union membership. We know that the South actually has the lowest rate of both approval and union membership across all the regions of the U.S. So if you compare the East at - 8% of people say they themselves are a member, 20% of households in the East, compared to only 4% of respondents in the South and 10% of households in the South. So it's not that surprising when you look at the data. But again, you know, every one of these situations is really unfolding on its own merits and not necessarily based on public opinion.

CHANG: Well, what do you think the future might look like when it comes to public opinion for unions?

YOUNIS: Pretty much, if the past equals the future, they can hold on. But if there is a really big focus on a sort of a negative case study or a negative case in point of a union being involved or union leaders being involved, it's not hard to imagine that these perceptions could turn really quickly. One thing that is certain is public opinion in the United States around topics that tend to be often politicized or at least find themselves in political news cycles can really change depending on the rhetoric and some of the party ID factors that are at play in the data.

CHANG: That is Gallup editor-in-chief Mohamed Younis.

Thank you so much for joining us today.

YOUNIS: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.