Union Membership and Political Inclusion

Source: Roland Zullo, Industrial and Labor Relations, Vol. 62, No. 1, October 2008
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Using county-level data, the author evaluates how labor affected the general population’s political behavior during the 2000 U.S. presidential election. Voter turnout increased with unionization, but at declining rates with higher levels of unionization. The unionization/voter turnout link was stronger in counties with lower median incomes, higher income inequality, and lower levels of education, suggesting that unions partially closed the political participation gap between low- and high-SES (socioeconomic status) populations. State right-to-work laws, and the absence of collective bargaining rights for public employees, reduced labor’s ability to increase voter turnout. The union effect on candidate preference had a positive, curvilinear association with union membership, but this effect was stronger in high-SES regions than in low-SES regions. Overall, these results imply a paradox for organized labor: unions can effectively increase working-class voter turnout, but they have difficulty persuading the working class to vote for pro-labor political candidates.

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