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Approval of Labor Unions at Highest Point Since 1965

Approval of Labor Unions at Highest Point Since 1965

Gallup
September 2, 2021

By Megan Brenan

Sixty-eight percent of Americans approve of labor unions. Though statistically similar to last year’s 65%, the current reading is the highest Gallup has measured since 71% in 1965.

Gallup has measured the public’s rating of labor unions periodically beginning in 1936 and then annually since 2001, and more Americans have expressed approval than disapproval in every reading.

Between 1936 and 1967, approval averaged 68% and included record-high 75% approval ratings in 1953 and 1957. Then, from 1972 through 2016, support eased, with few readings over 60%. This included the 48% all-time low recorded in 2009, the only time approval was below the majority level. Since 2016, approval has steadily increased and is now 20 percentage points above the historical low.

The current results are from Gallup’s annual Work and Education poll conducted Aug. 2-17, 2021.

Democrats’ Approval of Labor Unions Hits 20-Year High

Approval has increased among nearly all major demographic subgroups since 2016. One exception is labor union members, whose approval has been no lower than 75% since 2001. Currently, 86% of union members approve of unions, down from the recent high of 93% in 2019.

In addition to union members, approval is relatively high among young adults aged 18-34 (77%) and those with annual household incomes under $40,000 (72%).

Democrats are the most approving of unions. Their latest approval of 90% is the highest it has been in the past two decades and is up seven points since last year. At the same time, Republicans’ (47%) and independents’ (66%) approval is essentially unchanged. Each partisan group’s current approval of unions is more than 20 points higher than its lowest 2001-2020 rating.

It is not clear if the 90% union approval among Democrats is the highest measured because Gallup does not have a complete trend by party. However, it is higher now than it was in 1965, as well as when overall union approval was at its highest (1953). In those years, approval among Republicans was significantly greater than today. For their part, independents were at or above the current 66%.

  • In 1965, the previous high point in the overall trend, 61% of Republicans and 77% of Democrats approved.
  • In 1953, when overall approval reached the all-time high of 75%, Democrats’ approval was 79% and Republicans’ approval was 64%.

Labor Union Membership Remains Steady

At 9%, U.S. adults’ self-reported membership in a labor union falls within the 7% to 12% range it has occupied over the past 20 years. Another 8% of Americans live in a household with a union member, meaning 17% of Americans reside in a union household.

Union members tend to have higher incomes than their nonunion counterparts — about one in 10 Americans with household incomes of $40,000 or more are union members. This compares with 5% of those with incomes less than $40,000.

Bottom Line

Americans’ approval of labor unions has been trending upward in recent years and is now at its highest point in more than half a century. Approval among Democrats, which is nearly unanimous, has risen over the past year as President Joe Biden has said he expects his administration to be one of the most pro-union in history. However, with former President Donald Trump’s appeal to many blue-collar workers, some Republican politicians have begun to support union issues.