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As Labor Day Turns 125, Union Approval Near 50-Year High

As Labor Day Turns 125, Union Approval Near 50-Year High

Story Highlights

  • 64% of Americans approve of labor unions
  • Since 1970, higher only in 1999 (66%) and 2003 (65%)
  • Up 16 points from 2008, with party groups showing similar increases

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Sixty-four percent of Americans approve of labor unions, surpassing 60% for the third consecutive year and up 16 percentage points from its 2009 low point. This comes 125 years after President Grover Cleveland signed a law establishing the Labor Day holiday after a period of labor unrest in the U.S.

Union approval averaged 68% between Gallup's initial measurement in 1936 and 1967, and consistently exceeded 60% during that time. Since 1967, approval has been 10 points lower on average, and has only occasionally surpassed 60%. The current 64% reading is one of the highest union approval ratings Gallup has recorded over the past 50 years, topped only in March 1999 (66%), August 1999 (65%) and August 2003 (65%) surveys.

Line graph. The 64% of Americans approving of labor unions is among the highest Gallup has measured in the past 50 years.

Higher public support for unions in the past few years likely reflects the relatively good economic conditions in place, particularly low unemployment. By contrast, the lowest union approval ratings in Gallup history came from 2009 through 2012, years of high unemployment that followed the Great Recession. Gallup also observed relatively low union approval during the poor economic times in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Democrats, independents and Republicans are all more likely to view unions positively now than they were at the low point a decade ago. Notably, since 2009, union approval has increased among each party group by 16 or 17 points. Democrats (82%) remain far more likely than Republicans (45%) to approve of unions.

Changes in Labor Union Approval by Party, 2009-2019
2009 2019 Change
% % pct. pts.
Democrats 66 82 +16
Independents 44 61 +17
Republicans 29 45 +16

In addition to partisanship, union affiliation is a significant driver of union approval. Specifically, 86% of U.S. adults living in a household with a union member approve of unions, compared with 60% of those in nonunion households.

According to the 2019 survey, 14% of Americans reside in a union household, and 10% of working adults are personally members of labor unions.

View complete question responses and trends (PDF download).

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