05 September 2006

Unions and Politics

Why did Colorado vote for Bush in 2004? A big part of the explanation lies at the feet of its relatively weak union movement.

Just 5.2% of private sector workers in Colorado, and just 8.4% of all workers in Colorado, are union members (Table 649). Unionizing just 4.1% of Colorado's workers could make the difference between the state being red and blue politically. For Democrats, organizing is party building.

Unionization is a strong predictor of a state's political leanings.

Nationally 12.5% of the work force is in unions. Only three states with more than 12.5% of the overall work force in labor unions in 2004 (Alaska, Ohio and West Virginia) voted for Bush in 2004, while only three states with 12.5% or less of the work force in labor unions in 2004 voted for Kerry in 2004 (Delaware, New Hampshire, Vermont). Unionization levels accurately predicted the outcome in the District of Columbia and the other 44 states.

Indeed, the exceptions seem to prove the rule that unionization levels in a state are a key factor in election results.

In two of the anomolous states, Ohio for Bush, and New Hampshire for Kerry, the margin of victory for the candidate winning the state was less than three percentage points.

In Delaware, where 12.5% of the work force is in a union, the cutoff point between most red states and most blue states, unionization is a particularly weak indicator of the state's political leanings.

Ohio and West Virginia are also notable for having experienced among the largest drops in union membership from 1983 to 2004 in terms of an absolute percentage point drop in membership, 9.9 percentage points in the cases of Ohio to 15.2 percent of the work force, and 11.1 percentage points in the case of West Virginia to 14.2 percent.

The only other states which saw such a large percentage point drop were Nevada, which saw a 9.9 percentage point drop to 12.5 percent of its work force, Massachusetts, which saw a 10.4 percentage point drop to the point where 13.5 percent of its workers are in unions, and Indiana which dropped 13.5 percentage points to 11.4 percent.

All but one of the anomolous states are small, and they tend to cancel each other out. Alaska, Delaware, New Hampshire and Vermont each have only 3 electoral votes. West Virginia has only 5 electoral votes. Among these five states, 8 electoral votes were cast for Bush when unionization level alone would have predicted votes for Kerry, while 9 electoral voters were cast for Kerry when unionization levels alone would have predicted votes for Bush.

Cross Posted at Colorado Confidential.

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