Ohio's Labor Voters Could Tilt the Election Either Way

Article excerpt


Though labor's electoral role is getting scant media attention, union votes are likely to be pivotal in the outcome of the presidential race.

Despite declining membership since the mid-1950s, unions provide key strength for Democrats, accounting for one-quarter of all votes in some recent national elections, with up to three-quarters of that vote going to labor-endorsed candidates.

When the Democrats won the House in 2006 and when they captured the White House two years later, without labor's votes the races would have been too close to call.

Labor's strength in key swing states raises the ante, which brings us to the second reason you are likely to hear about labor on Nov. 7 and the days following: Ohio.

We've been told frequently that no Republican has made it to the White House without winning the Buckeye State. But that understates Ohio's significance. Since the Kennedy-Nixon contest in 1960, no candidate from either party has gained the presidency without winning Ohio. In fact, over the past 16 presidential elections - i.e., all post-World War II contests - only John F. Kennedy won without Ohio's electoral votes.

It's not only the sheer numbers in Ohio - 650,000 union members and more than 1 million union household members - but also that these often are swing voters in a swing state. Economically progressive but more conservative on social issues, their votes are perennially up for grabs.

Indeed, their unpredictability reflects the conundrum facing anyone trying to gauge what role union voters will play this time. I could give you a half-dozen reasons why they will turn out in large numbers and overwhelmingly support President Obama. But I could give you equally feasible reasons why their turnout will be smaller than usual and their margin favoring the incumbent will be thinner.

Here is why their votes will boost Mr. Obama: Union leaders are doing their typically impressive education and get-out-the-vote efforts. The union-bashing Republican ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan repels union members. …