A few years ago the wife of an ultra-conservative candidate told me that one day while she was out knocking on doors she approached a home that had a large lawn sign for the opposing candidate, an ultra-liberal. She was quite sure it would be a waste of time but she knocked on the door anyway, expecting to have it slammed back in her face, or hear verbal abuse, or, at best, a polite "not interested." Instead when she identified herself she was met with a broad smile and an enthusiastic confirmation that the couple who lived there would be voting for her husband. She thanked them and noted their support but just had to look over at the sign on the lawn and ask about it. "Oh that," the couple explained, "the union makes all of us put one up. But none of us like the guy, and the union can't make us actually vote for anybody we don't like."
Well, it is absolutely true that most of the traditional trade unions are strong supporters of the Democrats. But surveys and exit polls have shown for many years that a very significant portion of their members are not. In fact, they are quite conservative.
More specifically, over the past several election cycles an average of 33% of registered union members have voted GOP. For those who are identified as members of "union households" in which a least one of the adults is an active union member, the rate of support for the GOP has ranged from 35% to 40%. During the election campaigns of both John McCain and Ronald Reagan the support of union household members for the Democrat was only 7% greater than for the GOP.
Barack Obama did well with union members and households. But he did well with many groups who in the past had been weak supporters of the left, or had not voted at all. Much of his support from union household members is soft, and some it it may well shift back to the right in November 2012.
What's going on here?
Well, just because someone is a paid-up union member it does not necessarily follow that affinity to a union is the most important force in determining his or her vote. For many American workers there are other factors that override the dictates of the bosses. These include:
1. Gun rights. Many union members are avid hunters. Many believe strongly in their Second Amendment right to bear arms. They clearly understand that the Right is on their side on this issue and the Left is not.
2. Church affiliation. About as many union households are active members of conservative churches as is the case for the general population in any district. Their convictions concerning social/moral issues such as abortion, gay marriage, and school prayer play a far stronger role in determining their vote than pro-labor policies. For many of these people, their closest friends and their social life is centered on the church, and they tend to vote the same way as those people who matters most to them - their fellow conservative believers.
3. Military families. Moms and dads who have sons and/or daughters serving in Iraq or Afghanistan are, like most military families, more likely to vote conservative. The same is true for active union members who have had several years of past military service. Really - how many Viet Nam vets do you know who voted for Obama. Ok, John Kerry did. That's one. Can you think of any other?"
4. Patriotism. Unionists are as proud of their country as the next guy. Their fathers and grandfathers also fought and died in World War II and in Viet Nam. They firmly believe that America is a truly good country. They are angered by the "blame America first" practice of the left and ashamed of the stance taken before the world of our Apologist in Chief.
5. Common Sense. Working households understand that you can't spend money you don't have. The deficits and the failure of the Democrats and the Obama Administration to do anything other than add to the debt worries them. They have learned the hard way that if the corporation they are working for can't make a profit then their jobs will be lost regardless of how militant their union might be.
As you undertake your voter ID do not neglect to canvass known union households. It may surprise you how many of them are on your side, even if they cannot be public in their support. Do not neglect them either when it come to getting out your vote.
In your messages directed to "soft liberals" a photo of a man in a plaid shirt and a hard hat saying something like, "Hell no! I will not support anybody who apologizes for America" may be effective in appealing to the patriotic streak that is is not far below the surface of many union members.
Or, to borrow a phrase from Margaret Thatcher, try a caption like, "Obama isn't working."