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Democrats Lead Ranks of Both Union and State Workers

Democrats Lead Ranks of Both Union and State Workers

PRINCETON, NJ -- Union members, whether they work for the government or the private sector, are more likely than nonunion workers to be Democrats than Republicans. The gap is greatest among unionized state government workers, who are twice as likely to be Democrats. State workers are also more likely to be Democrats than are federal, local, or nongovernment workers, regardless of union status.

Political Party Identification Among Unionized and Nonunionized Workers in the U.S., 2010 Results

These data are based on 177,775 interviews with employed Americans conducted as part of Gallup Daily tracking in 2010. Government employment and union status are based on workers' self-reports. Among all U.S. adults interviewed, 32% are Democrats, 37% independents, and 28% Republicans.

Among other key findings:

  • The gap in Democratic party identification between union and nonunion work environments is largest among private-sector workers and federal government workers, with an 11.8-percentage-point and a 10.2-point gap, respectively.
  • Nonunionized state government workers show a smaller gap than the one found among unionized state workers, but still demonstrate a nearly 10-point Democrat (39.2%) to Republican (29.5%) gap.
  • Among private-sector workers who are unionized, Democrats outnumber Republicans by a substantial 42% to 24% margin.
  • Federal and local government workers who are unionized are also more likely to be Democrats than Republicans, albeit with a smaller partisan gap than among state and private-sector workers. Nonunion federal and local government workers are roughly even in terms of Democratic and Republican identification.
  • Nonunion private-sector workers are about evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.
  • The political profile of every major category of union workers is more strongly Democratic than that of the public at large -- with between 40% and 46% identifying as Democrats -- and somewhat less Republican and independent. Nevertheless, a significant minority -- ranging from 24% to 27% of unionized workers, depending on area of employment -- identify as Republicans.

Some of these political distinctions may be caused by underlying demographic patterns that characterize union jobs versus nonunion jobs. With that in mind, Gallup controlled for all relevant demographics and found a muted, but similar pattern.


Unions have been in the news in recent months as Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin made state employee unions the major target of his efforts to cut costs and reduce his state's budget. Walker and Republican legislators in Wisconsin engaged in a protracted battle with the unions and Democratic legislators over these efforts, effectively underscoring the highly partisan nature of union politics in today's environment. Unions have become one of the largest financial supporters of Democratic candidates for office, and the confrontation with Gov. Walker was likely amplified still further because of the probable political orientation of unionized state workers in Wisconsin.

The current data show that rank-and-file union members tend to follow these same partisan patterns across both government and private industry employment sectors. Even when demographic characteristics of union and nonunion members are controlled for, those who are union members skew at least slightly more Democratic in their political orientation than those who are not union members.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of the Gallup Daily tracking survey with 177,775 national working adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Jan. 2-Dec. 29, 2010. Of these, 144,682 respondents work inside of a nongovernment setting, and 133,317 of these are not in unions, while 11,365 are. For results based on the total sample of national working adults in a nongovernment setting, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±0.3 percentage point for those not in a union and ±0.9 percentage point for those who are.

State, federal, and local government employees are defined via the questions:

  • "Do you currently work for the federal, state, or local government?"
  • (If yes) "Which one?"

Union membership is defined via the question: "Are you a member of a labor union?"

The margin of sampling error for government employee groups is larger, but still small. Among nonunionized respondents, there are 6,607 federal employee, 8,645 state employee, and 6,358 local employee respondents in the sample over the full 12-month period, yielding error ranges of around ±1.0 percentage point for the cumulative data and about ±1.5 to ±2.5 percentage points for each government group. Among unionized respondents, there are 1,954 federal employee, 5,035 state employee, and 4,494 local employee respondents in the sample over the full 12-month period, yielding error ranges of around ±1.0 percentage point for the cumulative data and about ±1.5 to ±2.5 percentage points for each government group.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each daily sample includes a minimum quota of 200 cell phone respondents and 800 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, cell phone-only status, cell phone-mostly status, and phone lines. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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