In a sharp turn of public opinion, roughly as many Americans now have an unfavorable view of labor unions (42%) as have a favorable opinion (41%). In 2007, a clear majority (58%) thought favorably about unions — as had been the case for most of the past 20 years in Pew Research surveys — while just 31% had an unfavorable impression. While union favorability is down among all partisans, Democrats remain the strongest supporters (56% favorable) while independents (38%) and Republicans (29%) show weak support for organized labor. The declining view of unions is also evident across most demographic groups, and most precipitous among those ages 65 and older (favorability down 31 points to just 29%). Notably, those younger than age 30 are the only age group in which a majority (53%) expresses a favorable view, though that percentage is down from 66% in 2007. While ratings by whites and blacks are both down, a greater percentage of African Americans continues to have a favorable impression of unions. A 2009 Pew Research survey also found that just 61% say unions are necessary to protect working people, down nine points from 2007 and 13 points from 2003. Read More

Russell Heimlich  is a former web developer at Pew Research Center.