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WPRI Poll: Wisconsinites Support Right-To-Work Legislation

January 2015

A majority of Wisconsinites approve of labor unions and believe they have a positive effect. But nearly twice as many state residents would vote for a right-to-work law as would vote against it, according to a survey of 600 adults conducted for the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute by University of Chicago Professor and Pollster William Howell.

“Though there are important partisan disagreements, Wisconsinites on the whole are pro-labor and see value in unions,” said Howell. “What’s interesting here is that, at the same time, most state residents — Republicans and Democrats alike — support right-to-work legislation. The argument that workers should not be obligated to join a union in order to hold a job resonates broadly.”

The survey asked several different questions about right-to-work laws, which would give all workers the ability to refrain from joining a union, including:

  • Some states have passed right-to-work or open shop laws that say each worker has the right to hold his job in a company, no matter whether he joins a labor union, or not. If you were asked to vote on such a law, would you vote for it or against it?

Vote for……………………………………………………………………………….         62%
Vote against…………………………………………………………………………          32%
Don’t know or decline to answer…………………………………………........                6%

The poll sought opinions about basic arguments for and against such laws. To do so, it randomly assigned respondents to different question types, allowing researchers to evaluate the impact of different kinds of information and appeals on public opinion.  One random subsample was told that “those opposed to right-to-work or open shop laws say that when all workers share the gains won by the labor union, all workers should have to join and pay dues to give the union financial support.” Half (50%) of this group disagreed with that statement, while 46% said they agreed.

Another subsample was told that “those in favor of right-to-work or open shop laws say that no Americans should be required to join any private organization, like a labor union, against their will.” Over three-quarters (77%) said they agreed with that statement, while 22% disagreed.

A plurality of 600 respondents believe a right-to-work law will be economically beneficial for the state. Four in ten (40%) said such laws will “improve economic growth in Wisconsin,” 29% said the laws “will not affect economic growth” and 27% said such laws will “reduce economic growth.”

 “There are lots of ways to frame this debate. Some see it as an issue of individual freedom,  some as an economic impact issue; some think the starting point for discussion is whether it’s fair for unions,” said WPRI President Mike Nichols. “In all cases, no matter how the debate is framed or what the starting point is, more Wisconsinites support right-to-work legislation than oppose it.”  

When it comes to unions and right-to-work legislation, Republicans appear steadfastly in support, whereas Democrats (and, to a lesser degree, Independents) are conflicted.  By overwhelming margins, Republicans oppose unions, support right-to-work legislation, embrace arguments in favor of worker rights and resist arguments about the benefits of union organization. Majorities of Democrats, by contrast, support unions but also support right-to-work legislation, just as they profess to agree with arguments about worker freedoms and arguments about merits of union organization. 

The poll asked respondents about myriad other issues being discussed in Madison and in Washington, D.C., including  transportation funding, toll roads, Common Core, prevailing wage laws, taxes, special needs vouchers, online learning and government support for professional sports teams such as the Green Bay Packers and the Milwaukee Bucks. Some other highlights:

  • Forty-seven percent either somewhat or strongly support toll roads; 41% are somewhat or strongly opposed.
  • Sixty-two percent either somewhat or completely support giving families of children with special needs in public schools “a wider choice, by allowing them to enroll their children in private schools” with government help in paying tuition; 27% are somewhat or completely opposed.
  • Sixty-two percent either somewhat or strongly support Common Core; twenty-nine percent are somewhat or strongly opposed.

The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, established in 1987, is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit think tank working to engage Wisconsinites in discussions and timely action on key public policy issues critical to the state’s future.

Poll Toplines
Poll Methodology
Full Crosstabs
Presentation of Poll Results by William Howell, Pollster

 




 

 

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