Majorities of Americans continue to see the long-term decline in the share of workers represented by unions as a bad thing for both the country and working people in the United States, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted Jan. 10-17.
This analysis measures Americans’ views about the decline in U.S. union membership over the years. It is based on a survey of 5,128 U.S. adults conducted Jan. 10-17, 2022.
Everyone who took part is a member of Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology.
Here are the questions used for this analysis, along with responses, and its methodology.
In the survey, 58% of U.S. adults say the large reduction over the past several decades in the percentage of workers who are represented by unions has been somewhat or very bad for the country, while 61% say this has been bad for working people.
The share of U.S. workers who belong to a union has fallen since 1983, when 20% of American workers were union members. In 2021 10.3% of U.S. workers were in a union.
Views of the impact of the decline in union membership on the country and working people have changed very little since last year.
While there are modest demographic differences in these attitudes, partisan differences are much more pronounced.
Around seven-in-ten Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say the decline in the percentage of workers represented by unions in recent decades has been very or somewhat bad for the country (71%), and a similar share say it has been bad for working people (76%). Among Republicans and GOP leaners, 40% say the decline of organized labor has been bad for the country and 45% say it has been bad for working people.
Among Republicans, there are sizable age, educational and income divides in views about the impact of the decline of union membership. The differences among Democrats are more modest.
Older Republicans are more likely than younger Republicans to view the decline in union membership as good for working people. Around six-in-ten Republicans ages 65 and older (62%) say the decline of unions has been either very good or somewhat good for working people. About four-in-ten Republicans under age 40 (41%) say the same.
Upper-income Republicans (66%) are more likely than those in the middle- (54%) and lower-income (44%) tiers to view the decline in union membership as very or somewhat good for working people.
Among Democrats, those without a college degree are 10 percentage points more likely than those with a college degree to say that these changes have been at least somewhat good for working people (27% vs. 17%). There are only modest differences among Democrats by age and income.
About half of White Republicans (52%) say the decline of union membership has been at least somewhat good for working people. The sample size for Black and Hispanic Republicans is too small to analyze.
White Democrats (19%) are slightly less likely than Black (27%) or Hispanic Democrats (29%) to say the decline in unionization has been good for working people.
While Republicans and Democrats overall differ greatly on whether these shifts have been good for working people, ideological divides are evident within both parties.
A majority of conservative Republicans (59%) say the decline in organized labor membership has been good for working people, including 20% who say this has been very good. In contrast, 39% of moderate and liberal Republicans say this has been at least somewhat good for working people.
While large majorities of all Democrats say the decline in the percentage of workers represented by unions has been bad for working people, liberal Democrats (84%) are more likely to say this than conservative and moderate Democrats (69%).
Liberal Democrats are also much more likely to say the decline in organized labor has been very bad for working people: 49% say this, compared with 22% of conservative and moderate Democrats.
Note: This is an update of a post originally published on April 15, 2021. Here are the questions used for this analysis, along with responses, and its methodology.