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MC poll addresses work, unions and clout in the Midwest

While most Midwesterners still support the concept of labor unions, they are less sympathetic to public employee labor collectives, according to a new Monmouth College poll.

The poll, which sampled the opinions of 500 registered voters in eight Midwest states, indicated that residents of America’s heartland believe public workers are generally better compensated than their counterparts in the private sector and that their unions have too much influence over elected officials.

Another major finding of the college’s second annual opinion poll on Midwest attitudes is that Midwesterners oppose measures designed to rescind collective bargaining rights and enact right-to-work laws. Those two initiatives, successfully advanced by Republican governors in the Midwest, set off a firestorm of political rancor and set the stage for the region to be the deciding battleground in the 2012 presidential election.

Random calls were made to voters in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin. The Monmouth College/Midwest Matters Initiative survey has a margin of error of +/- 4.38 percent.

“It is ironic that the future of unions and the entire labor movement is being decided in the region where they once set a standard for the nation,” said MC political science lecturer Robin Johnson, who helped create the poll. “Most Midwesterners seem to be conflicted about these issues and most haven’t formed firm opinions.”

Other key results include:

• Midwesterners think the nation and region are still headed in the wrong direction, although there is some improvement from the first Monmouth poll, taken one year ago.

• Midwesterners mostly believe the economy in the region is the same, although more believe economic conditions are improving than last year.

• Unemployment is still the leading issue of importance in the Midwest, although opinions are divided on whether the economy will be able to produce good jobs for American workers.

• Opinions are mixed on whether people still believe in a distinctive Midwest work ethic.

• Most Midwesterners still believe people can succeed through hard work, but most feel Americans are not as willing to do so.

• Midwesterners believe corporations have more political power than unions by a 2-to-1 margin.

In a reflection of the political polarization in the nation, opinions on the survey questions were sharply divided by partisan affiliation. Gender, income, education and age influenced other variations.

“The results are significant for both the future of work and the union movement coming into the 2012 presidential election,” said Johnson. “But the more important elections may be in 2014, when several Republican governors who initiated anti-union legislation will be seeking reelection.”

Johnson said that both the 2012 and 2014 elections will also involve battles for control of state legislatures, where debates over the role and influence of unions will be settled.

“The Midwest will play a critical role in determining the outcome of the political and policy battles over the role of labor unions in society,” he predicted.