05 November 2010

Union Vote No Longer So Loyal To Democrats

Weak union member support in Ohio and Pennsylvania cost Democrats a U.S. Senate seat and a Governor's office this election cycle.

Union households, a key Democratic voting bloc . . . accounted for a quarter of the vote in the battlegrounds of Pennsylvania and Ohio . . . They didn't always vote for Democrats, despite six-figure ad campaigns and get-out-the-vote efforts by their unions encouraging them to do so.

In the Pennsylvania Senate contest . . . exit polls showed that 44% of union household members who voted Tuesday picked Republican Pat Toomey, rather than Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak. Mr. Toomey narrowly won, 51% to 49% . . . . Nearly half, 45%, of Pennsylvania's union household voters said someone in their house had been laid off in the past two years. President Barack Obama carried this state by 10 points in 2008, and campaigned there repeatedly this fall. . . .

In the Ohio governor’s race, nearly a third of the labor vote backed Republican John Kasich, who narrowly defeated incumbent Democrat Gov. Ted Strickland. Similarly, 45% of the Buckeye State’s union household voters said they supported Republican Rob Portman instead of Democratic Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher for the U.S. Senate. Mr. Fisher received a thumping, losing 39% to 53%.

From here.

Unions have some reasons to be sore. They are economy oriented voters and the economy is in bad shape. The Employee Free Choice Act didn't pass and many Democrats backed away from it. They are likely to be hardest hit by provisions of the health care reform act taxing "luxury" health care plans.

But, the bailout of GM and Chrysler saved many tens of thousands of union jobs at great public expense and political cost in a way that gave union pension fund boards a real say in the management of those companies. The Democrats sponsored cars for clunkers (an admittedly ineffectual program) to boost the automobile industry. Increased vigor in safety regulation for automobiles put Toyota, instead of American automakers, on the back foot.

Expanding health care coverage has been a union goal for a long time, was shared widely at the grassroots, and unions were influential in drafting the legislation. Democrats extended unemployment benefits and supported COBRA subsidies for laid off workers. Their taxes have been lowered in stimulus bills, and President Obama has committed to extending the tax cuts that benefit them.

And, while Democrats have not necessarily gone the extra mile for unions, Republicans want to anniliate unions entirely, so it is hard to see what union members have to gain by voting for a Republican because Democrats didn't deliver on the EFCA.

Admittedly, union members did support Democrats, albeit by a modest margin, in all three races mentioned above. But, once again, the vote is proof that elections are about more than policies. Election decisions are more emotional and a product of economic circumstances than rational, and Democrats did not deliver in this election season emotionally or economically.

Rather than creating a silver lining for Democrats, union members seized defeat from the jaws of victory.

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