A Simple Way to Increase Dem Turnout and Vote Totals: Increase Union Membership

Sure 57% of American households make less than $50,000. Yes Kerry won a greater percent of the voters from households making under $50,000 vote than Clinton or Gore, and adjusted for inflation did better among voters from the bottom three income quintiles than any Democrat since 1964 (except maybe 1976 Carter). Kerry not only won the under $50,000 vote nationally, he also won them in 31 states including all the blue states and all the battleground states (except Colorado (50%-49%) and West. Va. (55%-45%)), and even some solid red states like North Carolina and Georgia.

Still, there are two fundamental problems for the modern day Democrat: First, only 45% of voters in 2004 were from $50,000 households. Second, too many folks (particularly whites) in that income strata vote their more conservative cultural views over their more liberal economic views. Why is this? According to Robyn Blumer the answer is simple: Lack of union households. In her article “Democrats Should Look for the Union Label” Blumner makes several notes from the Peter Hart Research Associates survey.

First, voters from union households voted for Kerry over Bush by a margin of 65%-33%. This is the best percent the Democrats have achieved among voters from union households since the 1960s.

More importantly for Dems:
“…the analysis gets more intriguing as it is broken down. For example, gun owners nationally voted for Bush over Kerry by 20 percentage points. But if those gun owners were also union members, they voted for Kerry by a 12-point margin. White men were for Bush over Kerry by 18 percentage points, but white, male union members preferred Kerry by 21 points. And Americans who go to church weekly voted for Bush over Kerry by 21 percentage points. Add in the union factor and they were for Kerry by 12 points.”

So there it is. Create a union member, and there’s a good chance you’ve grown a Democrat as well.” Kerry also carried union white women by 35 percent, but lost white women overall by 4 percent.

In fact, give one guy or gal a union card and you’ve probably created a Democratic voter of everyone in the household. And union voters are as sure to vote almost as much as wealthy Republican voters. Although only 12.5% of the labor force belong to labor unions, voters from union households made up 24% of the voting electorate.

Ever wonder why Bush wants to strip federal employees- including FEMA workers and workers in general-of workplace and organizing rights? I think we just found the answer. The GOP knows that abortion or no abortion, upper-class voters (including upper-class white women) will usually vote their economic interests over their cultural ones. For the middle and working class voter that’s usually only the case if the unions are there to educate them on the real economic views of the candidates. “Good god” yell the Republicans, “we can’t have non-wealthy voters being educated, they might vote. Worse, they might vote their pocketbooks and then we might have to do things we don’t like- like paying taxes to fund FEMA and public schools.”

Of course unions are not the only part of the Democratic Coalition, but they are an essential part of it. What’s more, a more powerful union movement (with more union voters) give tangible benefits even to those who are not in unions. Unions lobbied hard for passage of many of the social welfare and civil rights legislation of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s-even though much of that legislation only impacted unions indirectly at best (e.g. unions lobbied hard for the Civil Rights Acts even though their membership at the time was overwhelmingly white).

On a more recent note, even though the average union member makes considerably more than the minimum wage that hasn’t stopped unions for fighting hard for a minimum wage increase. On foreign policy, unions played an integreal part in the fight against communism- but opposed Bush’ unilateral war.

Finally, an increased union movement can bring tangible benefits to places where unions have traditionally been weak. Look at the two states of Ohio and Louisiana. Unions have traditionally been strong in Ohio (though the numbers have been declining there), but small in number in right-to-work Louisiana. Still, had there been more union voters in Ohio Kerry would’ve likely won the state. Ergo, more union households in Ohio=Kerry presidency=efficiently run and well funded FEMA=less suffering and misery in Lousiana come Hurricane Katrina. Most of the victims of Katrina may not have union cards, but they sure would’ve benefited from others having union cards.

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About Nick

Teacher of Social Studies. Born in the 1970s. History major, music minor. Big Baseball fan. Economic progressive.
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12 Responses to A Simple Way to Increase Dem Turnout and Vote Totals: Increase Union Membership

  1. Ron Chusid says:

    Democrats certainly shouldn’t turn their backs on unions, but I fear that trying to maintain a coalition which is less relevant to the 21st century is one reason for the Democrats’ decline.

    To return to power, Democrats need to broaden their appeal and elminate the perception of being the party the nanny-state and the poor. This hasn’t worked–working people are increasingly voting against their economic interests.

    The paradox faced by Democrats is that their positions are more reality-based and should appeal to the better educated who understand this, but they also alienate to some degree successful professionals and businessmen who fall for the Republican line and don’t realize that only the ultra-wealthy really benefit from GOP policies. By stressing a connection to labor, Democrats risk reinforcing the sterotypes which have been responsible for their decline.

    While I have often been critical of Kos, his appealing to young professionals is also needed. We need a big tent which can appeal to both labor and professionals in light of the limited groups which really benefit from Republican policies.

  2. Nick says:


    I agree about Dems broadening their appeal and having a big tent approach. What I don’t understand is the notion that “working people are increasingly voting against their economic interests.”
    Really? Kerry won 63% of the vote from folks from households making less than $15,000, he won 57% of the vote of voters from households making $15,000-$30,000, and won 51% of the vote from households making $30,000-$50,000.
    The problem was not Kerry’s numbers among these voters who make up just under 60% of households. In fact except for Carter in 1976, no other post-1964 Democrat has done this well among middle, working, and poor class voters. The problem was that they only made up 45% of the voting public. Had they made up 48% of the voting public Kerry would’ve won. Given how well unions have done turning out the union vote for Democrats, it seems only logical that Dems should try to grow union numbers-just like the GOP has tried to grow the size of the Christian Coalition because of the job they do turning out their vote.
    Kerry won 43% of the vote from people from households making $50,000 and up. This is only 2% less than Gore in 2000, and only 1% less than Clinton in 1996. While inflation and other economic trends might soon render $50,000 a more middle class income, the fact remains that among voters from the top 40% of households Dems have a ceiling of about 45%. Sure Dems should try to hold that number, and if we can improve on it great. But our winning margins will come from working people and middle class voters, not upper-middle class and rich voters.

  3. Nick says:



    As to unions on the Democratic decline and the unpopularity of unions, I can understand why you might think unions are unpopular. Given the fact that unions have declined from 25% of the workforce in the late 1970s to 12.5% now, its easy to conclude that unions have just lost their appeal. The public’s positive, or lack of, response to some anti-union actions (e.g. Bush decertifying airline baggage inspectors, Reagan firing the air traffic controllers, etc.) its easy to conclude that unions have fallen out of favor with Americans. Still, keep in mind three things
    1. Many MSM outlets have been historically cool towards unions. Even the “liberal” WaPo has rarely had good things to say about them. Frankly, anything Joe Klein or Tom Friedman say about unions should be trusted about as much as anything Rush Limbaugh says on any topic.
    2. The combination of deindustrialization with Reaganism in the 1980s started a period of “open season” on labor unions. Never underestimate how easily business has violated labor law-especially labor law governing workers right to organize. Some businesses, (e.g. Wal-Mart) ignore labor laws just as easily as the Jim Crow South ignored the 14th and 15th Amendments.

    3rd and finally, check out this article titled “Stronger Unions Boost Dem Prospects.”
    One quote everyone should note:
    ” A Harris Poll conducted 8/9-16, for example indicates that a hefty majority of U.S. adults entertain a negative overall view of “the job being done by labor unions.” But when asked to focus on the question of whether unions deliver better wages and working conditions for their members, 75 percent of adults agree, a slight uptick over the 72 percent who agreed in a 1993 Harris poll. 50 percent of respondents also agreed that unions work for legislation that benefits all workers, compared with 42 percent in 1993 and 51 percent said unions give members their money’s worth, compared to 42 percent in 1993. And 61 percent of union households believed union dues are a good investment, a double digit increase over the 50 percent who thought so in 1993.

    These figures are encouraging, although they should be better.”
    Agreed these figures should be better. Still, its good to see an entity long identified with Democrats is rising in approval-much more so than the approval ratings of most anti-labor administration in over a century.

  4. Nick says:


    The Quote “only 45% of voters in 2004 were from $50,000 households” should’ve read “only 45% of voters in 2004 were from SUB-$50,000 households.” Sorry about the confusion.

  5. Indie Liberal says:

    Excuse for being off the subject. Don’t know if Ron or Pam got this info, but Kerry is going to be on CNN–The Situation Room at 7 pm est tonight. 🙂

  6. Marjorie G says:

    Indie, you’re beautiful!

  7. Indie

    You rock! Had not heard anything, but I think everyone is on vacation.

  8. Indie Liberal says:

    Thanks Marjorie and Pam. Although it was the same interview that he did back on 11/17. It was a nice one, but my only rap is that I wish he would just come out and say that he did NOT vote and support this war. Too many think that IWR is war and not authority to go to the UN.

  9. mitch says:

    Being a union member I have been amazed for years how union members can vote for a party that wishes to dismantle every union in the nation. I’ve pondered for years why and have come to believe that the republican message allows voters to close the voting booth curtain and sin their little asses off. Greed was always in the offering when they talk of tax cuts but who were the recipients. Those union members that think our military should go to the middle east and take over “our oil fields” are swimming in a sea of envy. Any candidate that talks tough on communism and terrorism or the need to “close the window of vulnerable” and maintain a stronger military, has a man and his vanity by the nuts. But the worst of all is pride. Pride kills needlessly american soldiers and innocent people [children]of countrys whose natural resources we covet. Pride an indulgence in ones own satisfaction can explain the decision to reject a life saving procedure to a woman. Their pride and their religion aren’t worth the life of one woman. The sin of lust is an impeachable offense to these people that see nothing wrong with killing thousands for nothing more than war profiteering. To end my rant I’ll say, unions need to educate their members to the differences between sin and more noble goals like empathy, honesty, humility, and generosity. Unions could have won the day if they could blow away the smoke screen and allow the truth to be revealed.

  10. Nick says:


    A lot of good stuff in you comments man. What union are you a part of anyway? I’m in the teachers union myself.
    I know its weird seeing union folks vote Republican. Just remember that 65% of voters from union households voted Democrat-the highest percent since 1964- is a sure sign that the union rank and file have returned-or are at least are returning- to the Democratic fold.

  11. mitch says:

    Nick I’m a 35 year member of the I.B.E.W. thats the international brotherhood of electrical workers. I’ve worked on everything from nuclear power houses and oil refinerys to malls, schools and hospitals. Abortion and gun contol have been a hotly debated topic for all those years. I’ve asked for years how many people do you know have had thier guns taken from them and nobody has ever been able to answer that question. I then ask them when was the last time they used thier gun to make a living and they change the subject to keep from answering. I do not agree with abortion as a means of birth control but wished we lived in a society that had adoption readily available without the stigma placed upon it by religion today. Abortion today has much less to do with health than it does with religion. If we could confront the debate about abortion as a life saving instead of life taking procedure maybe a 2% or 3% swing in voting could make the difference the democrats need to win.

  12. mitch says:

    In my posting on the 31st the word vulnerable should have been the word vulnerability. The word that Reagan used.