Labor Unions-The Folks Who Made 2004 Close (and Can Do the Same in 2006)

I’ve been noticing lately all the press being given to liberal blogs and the role they played in 2004 and that they are expected to play in 2006. I have no objection to this, and the more influential The Democratic Daily becomes the better this nation will be. The work people did for Kerry in 2004 and are doing in 2006 is, to quote a top 40 country song, “something to be proud of.”

Still, I can’t help but notice that when people in the blogosphere, MSM, street corner, etc. discuss the liberal base of the Democratic Party the one group that seems to almost never come up are labor unions. Some of this is labor’s fault as the unionization rate has fallen from 25% in the Carter years to barely over 12% today. Similarly, a great percent of labor folks did vote for Ronald Reagan (though Carter and Mondale both won the labor vote). But when you have a multi-racial, mutli-gender, multi-regional group of folks that gave 65% of their votes to Kerry in 2004 ( the highest percent of the union vote recieved by a Democrat since 1964) it’s a good idea to wonder what effect these people had in 2004 and how they can be mobilized in 2006.

As far as effect of the labor vote goes in 2004, go to a website that shows the red/blue map of 2004. Now picture that red/blue map with the following blue states covered in red: Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Oregon. Had only non-union households gone to the polls in 2004, all the states listed would have gone for Bush (yes even oh-so-blue Illinois). Of the 252 electoral votes won by Kerry in 2004, 86 of those electoral votes came from states where the union household vote made the difference. To put it another way, rather than a final EV total of 286-252 the final EV total would have been a whopping 352-166! for Bush.

Exit polls asked voters if someone in their household belonged to a union. Michganders who said yes voted for Kerry 62%-37% while those without a union member in the household voted for Bush 55%-44%. The same percentages existed in Pennsylvania as well.

In Wisconsin, union household vote was Kerry 59%-39%, while the nonunion household vote was 53%-47%. Union households in Minnesota were for Kerry 61%-38%, non union was 52%-47% for Bush. In Illinois Kerry beat Bush 66%-34% among union households, but lost non-union ones 50%-49%. In Oregon, Bush won 51%-49% among nonunion households, but Kerry won Oregon union households 63%-36%.

Even in states where Kerry won the nonunion vote the union vote allowed Kerry to win those states by landslides. Among nonunion households in Washington state, Kerry won 52-46% but won 55%-44% among union households. Even California-home of the much maligned “Hollywood liberal”-saw Kerry win the nonunion vote by only 51%-47%, while Californians with a union member in their house voted for Kerry 59%-38%.

In conclusion, if unions can make an election close where the incumbent Republican has an approval rating of over 50%, just think what a similar effort would do in an election where Bush and the GOP have approval ratings like what they have now. Some folks in the blogosphere and the MSM might have forgotten about unions, but the GOP hasn’t. It’s not for nothing that Bush barred DHS employees from unionizing or Governor Matt “I can’t stop smoking” Blunts of Missouri is attempting to de-certify the public employees unions in Missouri. GOPers recognize high union turnout=bad news for right-wing nutjobs. Will Democrats recognize the same phenomena? Will Democrats cross picket lines as some folks in the MSM will want them to do? Or will they follow Kerry’s lead and refuse to cross picket lines even if it means cancelling important speeches?

Up next: How Kerry Overachieved in 2004 — and what it means for 2006.

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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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9 Responses to Labor Unions-The Folks Who Made 2004 Close (and Can Do the Same in 2006)

  1. Dotti J says:


    I appreciated your post with all the facts and figures re the 2004 labor union vote.

    I was raised in a labor union environment – my father was an Int’l Rep of the United Steelworkers Union, AFL-CIO. He also was an active Dem Party Leader, and held public office in our city. I recognize the recent divisions of some of the unions from the AFL-CIO, yet I believe that the Democratic Party is *the* party of labor – the Republican Party is *the* party of business/corporations/wealthy et al. When the Repubs change their value system (when hell freezes over) to meet the needs of the working class, perhaps they may garner the labor vote – never until then. I heard this message from my father in the 1950’s and it was evident by the votes cast in 2004 for John Kerry. Labor union members want an increase in the minimum wage, health care for their families, vacation and severance pay, and a right to bargain collectively. Let’s look at big business Wal-Mart, the high roller donor to the Repub Party: lowest wages, health care plan non-existent, and unionization forbidden. Need I say more about big business, except billions of dollars in profits, and nada for employees. I’d say these folks would be the non-union vote for Dems, and I also agree with you, the GOP has not/will not forget about unions.

    I look forward to your next post: How Kerry Overachieved. Keep Going.

  2. battlebob says:

    I have your earlier fine work about voting by income and enjoy your usual fine work this time.
    Is the reason for Union turn-out based on income more then union affiliation.
    JK won the under 50K vote and lost the over 50K vote. Is that in line with the union membership?

    The unions are going after the service industry people because those folks are lower paid and those jobs stay here.

    Your conclusion was Dems need to grab the 50k-75k voter.

  3. Indie Liberal says:

    The only frustrating thing about all this is that many will say that Kerry got those votes was because people hated Bush and were ABB.

  4. Nick says:


    Thanks for the feedback, it’s most appreciated. As far as union turnout being income or union membership driven, I think its some of both. Sorry if that sounds like a cop out.
    Yes there is more income awareness among union rank and file. Union rank and file are generally more aware class-wise and because of the union are less likely to buy into the “class warfare is un-American” line and similar lines that the GOP likes to parrot.
    This class awareness and the knowledge that unions bring higher incomes for working people is part of the reasons why unionized workers making over 50K (as well as unionized workers under 50K) turnout to vote and usually vote Democrat. For example, the teacher making less than 50K (e.g. yours truly) as well as the union teacher making more than 50K (e.g. a teacher with more experience and/or a masters) are both aware that without the union they’d be making some to a lot less.
    At the same time union affiliation by itself can also lead to higher turnout. Gone are the days when the unions would just send you a flier with their list of endorsed candidates and took for granted you’d (as a union member) follow the union recommendations. Now unions (particularly in battleground states) go out of their way to explain to their rank-and file just why the Dems are usually better and why it is so important for the rank and file to vote. (e.g. “Al Gore/John Kerry does not want to take away your gun, but George Bush does want to take away your union protections.”).
    Agreed Dems should and can do better among the 50-75 K crowd, but even with improvement among this group Dems have little chance of winning if they don’t do well among the under 50K crowd and make sure that the under 50K crowd comes out to vote. Unions are an integral part of both desirable outcomes.

  5. Indie

    When I was in NH for the primary, I met union guys who were thrilled that Gephardt had dropped out because their union had endorsed him and they preferred Kerry. I also watched the members of the SEIU at the Dem dinner in NH before the primary stand and cheer loudly when JK spoke, although they had endorsed Dean. They were not as enthusiastic about Dean. Just my observation. People will say a lot of things – but that does not make them true.

  6. Nick says:


    There’s always gonna be some people who make the ABB arguement. Some “liberals” are so convinced that nobody voted for Kerry, they’re beyond the reach of reason.
    Just remember when anyone throws that line at you that Kerry did better among the under 50K crowd (and among union voters) than either Clinton or Gore did. Also remember that over 50% of voters approved of Bush’s job performace at the time of the election, yet Bush got less than 51% of the vote. The liberals who are within reasons reach might see the light. The ones beyond reasons reach are well, out in la-la land.

  7. Nick

    Hey! I take to exception to that La-La-Land comment – some of us out here are hardened Kerry supporters! More than you can imagine actually.

  8. Nick says:

    Sorry Pam

    La-La land was meant to be the liberal equivalent (Daily Kos perhaps?) to the crazy land that people like Rumsfeld and Cheney live in. It was most assuradly not meant to refer to Los Angeles. I’ve met enough LA folks to know that there are plenty of down to earth folks there who are also Kerry supporters.
    I will fight for Los Angeles liberals (just please tell me that Paris Hilton is a GOPer, I can’t defend the indefensible. Or is that I can’t teach the unteachable? Oh well.

  9. Nick says:


    As a young union member tell your father I send a most appreciative thank you. If not for folks like him I never would have the benefits I have as a teacher today. Kudos for noticing the point about the GOP not forgetting about unions. I should have the post about Kerry overachieving up tomorrow, Monday.