By Dick Morris on March 17, 2011

For Immediate Release:

March 17, 2011

The Dick Morris Poll: Americans Back Governors Over Unions

By a margin of 47-39, likely voters in the United States support “the governors of Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio who have clashed with the public employee unions in their states” over their unions.

These and other findings are from The Dick Morris Poll, taken by telephone among 1,000 likely voters on March 10-13, 2011. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.

Attitudes are sharply split based on gender, party identification, and union membership:

  % Support Governors % Support Unions
Total 47% 39%
Men 54% 34%
Women 54% 34%
Democratic 17% 69%
Republican 81% 12%
Independent 46% 39%
Union Members 31% 58%

Collective Bargaining
On the issue of collective bargaining, voter attitudes were complex. They oppose elimination of collective bargaining, break evenly on restricting it, and strongly support excluding education reform issues from its purview.

* By 39-59, voters oppose efforts to eliminate collective bargaining entirely for public employee unions.

* By 43-48, they oppose limiting collective bargaining to wages and benefit issues only.

* But by 66-25, they agree with limiting “collective bargaining so that the union contract does not stop the dismissal of incompetent teachers and allows teachers to be paid based on merit not on seniority.”

Absentee State Legislators

Voters reacted strongly against state legislators who boycott their legislatures to stop the passage of labor legislation. By 25-61 they rejected the idea that it is “necessary” for Democrats to boycott the legislature so as to deny the majority a quorum “to stop legislation restricting unions from being passed.” The majority agreed that the legislators “should return to the legislature and respect the decisions the voters have made in the last election.”

The Governors’ Rationale: Finances vs Improving Education

When governors base their arguments on fiscal necessity, arguing that their restrictions are necessary to solve state budget problems, voters react with skepticism. But, when the stakes are related to quality education, they enthusiastically back the governors.

Voters split evenly – 43-44 – when asked:

“Some say that the governors have no choice but to restrict collective bargaining because their states are broke. Others say they are using the fiscal condition to attack public employees unfairly, which point of view comes closest to your own?”

Governors have no choice 43%
Using crisis to attack
Public employees unfairly 44%

Governors would do far, far better to base their arguments for limiting collective bargaining on the positive elements – limiting teacher tenure, merit pay, layoffs based on merit not seniority – that they wish to achieve than pleading dire fiscal necessity.

Attitudes Toward Unions

In general, voters approve of public employee unions by 50-40. But 49% say they have too much power while only 11% feel they have too little. (34% say they have the right amount of power).

Attitudes Toward the Teachers Unions

Teachers unions have an even more favorable image, winning a 54-39 approval among voters.

But voters do not believe that teachers unions are good for education. Only 36% said the unions helped schools while 44% felt they did more harm than good.

Attitudes on teachers unions are very mixed with most voters giving them their due, but expressing discontent with their impact on public policy:

* By 68-25, voters feel that unions “protect incompetent teachers.”

* But, by 70-22, they also feel that unions “protect teachers from arbitrary and unfair dismissal.”

* By 56-28, voters complain that unions “do not allow enough flexibility in the management of schools.”

* And, by 58-30 they agree the unions “don’t let schools pay really good teachers more money but insist on salaries based on seniority.”

* However, by 77-17, voters do agree that unions fight for good pay for teachers.
Would teachers be exploited if not for unions? Here voters split evenly with 49% saying they would be exploited and 47% disagreeing.

But on the underlying issues of education reform in America, there is a consensus opposing the views of the teachers union:

* Voters back “reducing teacher tenure to make it easier to fire teachers” by 51-38.

* And support “paying teachers based on merit not on seniority” by 81-15.

* They support “giving schools the authority to decide who to fire rather than basing it only on seniority” by 74-20.


The prevailing conventional wisdom, stoked by the mainstream liberal media, that the public sides with the unions in their confrontations with the governors, is wrong. But America is deeply divided over the issue.

Yet, beneath these deep divisions, there is a solid consensus in favor of the fundamental education reforms that lie behind the current debate. The more the debate focuses on restricting collective bargaining so as to reform teacher tenure, enact merit pay, allow school choice, and base layoffs on merit not seniority, the better the Governors and their Republican allies will do. But when the argument is predicated only on fiscal necessity, it splits the public evenly.

Education has always been a core Democratic issue. The Party’s traditional dominance on this issue has caused a big gender gap in voting to emerge. But with the voter consensus in support of specific and far reaching educational reforms that many Democrats and most of their teachers union allies oppose, the issue may begin to become a Republican one, with potentially far reaching national consequences.


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