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Why Americans support union rights: 5 theories
A clear majority of Americans back the kind of collective bargaining rights that Gov. Scott Walker is trying to strip from Wisconsin labor unions, says a Gallup poll. Why?
 
Americans have a fondness for schoolteachers, which may be one reason why a Gallup poll shows that a majority of the country supports union rights.
Americans have a fondness for schoolteachers, which may be one reason why a Gallup poll shows that a majority of the country supports union rights.
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It's still unclear who will prevail in Wisconsin's stand-off over labor union rights — but the American people seem to have chosen which side they're on. According to a USA Today/Gallup poll, 61 percent of Americans would oppose a law in their state taking away the collective bargaining power of public employee unions. Just 33 percent said they would support such a law. The public was more evenly split on labor unions themselves — 46 percent said they were "harmful" to states, while 45 percent said they were "helpful." The poll appears to show, says USA Today, that "Americans are reluctant to take away something that unions have already." Why?

1. Americans support fundamental rights for workers
Even a "sizeable chunk" of Republicans are opposed to rolling back bargaining rights, says Greg Sargent at The Washington Post. Four in ten (41 percent) say they wouldn't support such a law. That's a sign that this argument has become about "fundamental workers' rights," not labor union greed. And there's still "bipartisan consensus" backing workers' rights.

2. Republicans are perceived as the aggressors
The union support may in part be down to "what chess players call zugswang," says Nate Silver at The New York Times. That's when the "first mover or perceived aggressor" — in this case, Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.) — is at a disadvantage. Any move to tackle the deficit is likely to be "fairly unpopular." Because Walker moved first, he may bear the brunt of the criticism.

3. Americans like schoolteachers
While some on the right are content to see the Wisconsin protesters as union thugs, says Michael Tomasky at The Guardian, it's clear that most Americans view them simply as working folks, just like themselves. "Most people just don't hate schoolteachers, and aren't going to be worked up into a frenzy against them, and don't think them greedy either."

4. Citizens suspect political motives
Americans see through Scott Walker's plan, says Joe Gandelman at The Moderate Voice, and are "turned off by what is now appearing to be a clearly political move." To many voters, what's going on in Wisconsin — and around the country — does not pass "the smell test." It reeks of a political power play.

5. The poll is confusing
The Gallup poll asked voters if they supported collective bargaining rights, says Adam Geller at The Huffington Post, rather than just collective bargaining. That might cause respondents to confuse the issue with workers rights — a very different thing — making the survey "less balanced than is the norm for a Gallup poll."

 

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