James Pethokoukis

Politics and policy from inside Washington

Why economic insecurity isn’t helping Democrats

September 8, 2009

Some Democrats thought they would have a much easier time pushing through changes in healthcare, trade and labor policy thanks to the recession. The theory was that economic insecurity would nudge people toward the warm embrace of government.  Obviously that does not seem to be happening. Indeed, past polls showed that economic downturns actually make people more skeptical of Big Government. Apparently, that is also true of Big Labor. This from a recent Gallup poll:

The 48% of Americans now approving of unions represents the first sub-50% approval since Gallup first asked the question in the 1930s. The previous low was 55%, found in both 1979 and 1981.

Indeed, there is a statistical relationship between rising unemployment and union disapproval (via Nate Silver):

The regression line finds that, for every point’s worth of increase in the unemployment rate, approval of labor unions goes down by 2.6 points. Alternatively, we can add a time trend to the regression model, to account for the fact that participation in labor unions has been declining over time. This softens the relationship slightly, but still implies a decrease in approval of 2.1 points for unions for every point increase in unemployment. Both relationships are highly statistically significant.

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