Do Unions Still Matter in U.S. Elections? Assessing Labor's Political Power and Significance

Peter L. Francia 1
  • 1 East Carolina University

Popular accounts of the labor movement often suggest that unions are in decline. While there have been sharp declines in union membership as a percentage of the workforce, this study presents evidence that organized labor’s influence in the U.S. elections remains significant. Using data from the American National Election Study and the National Election Pool, the results in this study demonstrate: (1) union households, despite drops in union membership as a percentage of the workforce, have remained a sizeable percentage of the U.S electorate, especially in regions outside of the South; (2) unions boost voter turnout, including among those from traditionally underrepresented demographics; and (3) unions continue to produce a strong Democratic vote in presidential and congressional elections, and boost the Democratic vote among middle-income whites – a critical “swing” constituency. In total, these results suggest that the future strength or weakness of the labor movement is likely to have significant implications for upcoming election outcomes, the party coalitions that ultimately form for future Democratic and Republican candidates, and how representative the electorate will be relative to the population in years to come.

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