Martin Scorsese’s three-and-a-half-hour epic The Irishman may not have been the most scintillating cinema, but it did serve an edifying purpose: It revealed to the younger generation just how labor unions and American politics have been historically connected. But we no longer live in the days of Jimmy Hoffa and Frank Sheeran. Perhaps nothing signals this more clearly than the union vote, which is shifting away from its so-called Democratic champions.
Stipulating, of course, that union voters are not monolithic, there are still trends to be mined – and none appear to be advantageous for Democrats. Labor statistics and voting patterns reveal that trouble is dead ahead for the Dems, should they take a breath away from trying to remove Mr. Trump from office long enough to see what appears plain to all: Union members are no longer voting the party line.
This has been going on for some time.
Even college students are figuring this out. In a thesis, student Daniel J. Gillis compiled statistics that show labor unions have been embracing the GOP message for several election cycles. In 2004, 32% voted Republican and, except for 2008, that number has been rising. It was 33% in 2012 and – wait for it – 43% in 2016.
Gillis also found that the union vote is primarily split along racial lines with blacks voting for Democrats from 2004 to 2012 by a two to one margin over whites. Kim Moody of Jacobin Magazine punctuated this point when he wrote, “The decline in manufacturing jobs, the shrinking of union representation, the creation of more and more lousy jobs, the withdrawal of aid to the cities, etc. have created not just ‘angry white men’ who voted for Trump, but angry white, black, Latino, and Asian men and women who, for good and sound reasons, no longer see the Democrats as their defenders.”
All this spells trouble with a capital “T” for the Dems in 2020. The Democrats have historically been able to count on the union faithful to bring home a win, and when they didn’t vote the party line, the results were nothing less than tragic for the party. Other than Trump, can you guess who else got a bigger slice of the union pie in the last half-century? How about we let The Washington Post answer that question: “In union households (that is, households in which someone was a union member), Trump trailed Hillary Clinton by only 8 points, a substantial improvement from how Mitt Romney did in 2012. In fact, it was the best margin for a Republican since … 1984, the election that gave Reagan his second term.”
To make matters worse for those in blue, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics this week released figures that depict the slow but sure descent of union membership. “In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent, and there were 17.7 million union workers. In 2019, the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of unions–the union membership rate–was 10.3 percent, down by 0.2 percentage point.”
Talking Turkey with a Billionaire
Why would union members support an urban billionaire? There are a couple of obvious reasons. One is Trump’s ability to communicate and connect with the common man. It was no accident that Aaron Copland’s classic “Fanfare for the Common Man” was piped into Mr. Trump’s victory celebration in the wee hours of November 9th, 2016. The elite may find the president boorish and crude, but much of the rank and file across America find his non-PC, plain-spoken character refreshing. It’s not unusual to hear people who support Trump say that the president often blurts out what they’ve been thinking. This connectedness to the people is something the Democrats have been searching for in a presidential candidate.
Perhaps that’s the appeal of Vice President Joe Biden, who often makes a less than convincing effort to be a man of the people by writing things like “no malarkey” on his campaign bus. Elizabeth Warren also goes overboard in this area as noted by Liberty Nation’s Tim Donner, who wrote that the former Harvard Law professor is “straining to sound authentically working class by often referring to her ‘mama’ and her days growing up in Oklahoma.” Americans have a robust BS meter and are a difficult lot to con. They are better than average at sniffing out who is real and who is phony. Like him or not, President Trump is what he is, says what he means, and lets the chips fall where they may.
Other solid reasons for union members to walk on the wild side with Trump might be the sheer number of manufacturing jobs created under the president’s watch, not to mention robust economic growth and plummeting unemployment. A candidate needs to give the voter a reason to put a checkmark next to his name on election day and Trump’s success in all these areas provides plenty of motivation for the dues-paying union member.
Add all of this up, and it makes sense that those who belong to labor unions no longer seem to be buying what the Democrats are selling. Where is the motivation for them to toe the Democratic party line? Democrats would be wise to forego the histrionics on Capitol Hill and head out to those union-heavy swing states to rally what’s left of their troops. But that horse may have already left the barn.
Read more from Leesa K. Donner.