Union Membership and Political Inclusion
Using county-level data, the author evaluates how labor affected the general pop¬ulation’s political behavior during the 2000 U.S. presidential election. Voter turnout increased with unionization, but at declining rates with higher levels of unionization. The unionization/voter turnout link was stronger in counties with lower median incomes, higher income inequality, and lower levels of education, suggesting that unions partially closed the political participation gap between low- and high-SES (socioeconomic status) populations. State right-to-work laws, and the absence of collective bargaining rights for public employees, reduced labor’s ability to increase voter turnout. The union effect on candidate preference had a positive, curvilinear association with union membership, but this effect was stronger in high-SES regions than in low-SES regions. Overall, these results imply a paradox for organized labor: unions can effectively increase working-class voter turnout, but they have difficulty persuading the working class to vote for pro-labor political candidates.