by Lowman S. Henry | October 22, 2007

Poll shows younger voters, Democrats support a Right to Work law

Pennsylvania has a reputation for being a strong union state. This despite the fact the percentage of the workforce represented by a bargaining unit has fallen to its lowest level since the union movement began. Now, a new poll conducted by the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research finds a majority of voters believe it is time for Pennsylvania to become a Right to Work state.

Basically, the term “Right to Work” means that a worker cannot be compelled to join or pay fees to a labor union as a condition of employment. It comes down to a fundamental issue of fairness. Obviously workers should – and do – have the right to form and join a labor union, but being forced to join as a condition of employment strikes many as being downright un-American.

Labor unions, facing steep declines in membership, strongly oppose the Right to Work knowing in many instances they cannot recruit and/or keep members if they are given a choice of joining or not joining. That strategy has backfired as the Lincoln Institute poll found younger voters and even registered Democrats – supposedly the party of “labor” – support enactment of a Right to Work law.

The poll of 750 registered voters conducted in early October found 56% of those surveyed support a Right to Work law, whereby a worker cannot be compelled to join or pay fees to a labor union as a condition of employment. Of the 56% who said they support a Right to Work law, 35% said they “strongly” supported such a law and 21% “somewhat” support it. A total of 30% of the voters in the sample said they oppose enactment of a Right to Work law, while 14% were undecided.

Demographic results of the Lincoln Institute poll show efforts to pass a Right to Work law should gather momentum in coming years as support for such a law is strongest among the youngest voters. Sixty-eight percent of voters aged 18 to 24 favor enactment of a Right to Work law while a plurality of 49% of voters over the age of 65 indicated their support. In no age group were there more respondents opposed to a Right to Work law than in favor of it.

Although labor unions often seek to portray Right to Work laws as the province of big business Republicans, the Lincoln Institute poll found a higher percentage of registered Democrats support the Right to Work. Fifty-seven percent of Democrats said they favor a Right to Work Law, with 30% opposed; 55% of Republicans support such a law with 30% opposed. Independent voters broke 54% to 29% in favor of a Right to Work law. Sixty-two percent of those voters describing themselves as conservatives support adoption of Right to Work legislation; 54% of philosophical moderates and 49% of liberal voters also support such a law.

Another issue where Pennsylvania voters are in disagreement with labor unions is over so-called “fair share” laws (which are anything but fair) whereby employees who choose not to join a union are still required to pay an administrative fee to a labor union if their workplace is represented by a union. A majority of respondents (58%) said they oppose such a practice while 31% agreed with it.

The majority opinion is again driven by younger voters who, by a two-to-one (62% – 30%) margin oppose the “fair share” practice as do 65% of voters in the 25-44 year-old age demographic. Interestingly, more Democrats (53%) oppose “fair share” than Republicans (50%), while 48% of independents oppose it. By political ideology, 59% of conservatives and 51% of moderates oppose “fair share,” while 54% of self-described liberals back the practice.

Although labor unions continue to wield considerable clout beneath the capitol dome, results of the Lincoln Institute poll show they have lost the support of a majority of Pennsylvanians, including their own base within the Democratic Party and – most significantly – among younger voters. At some point, when legislators come to grips with this new reality, Pennsylvania will pass a Right to Work law and join the ranks of those states protecting the individual freedoms of their citizens.