Friday, April 01, 2011

Dick Morris on union popularity versus Republican governors

Here are Dick Morris's numbers:

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.
Believe me when I say that I haven't actually taken a side in this, given principles of Federalism.  Taking a stance regarding Michigan policy may prove necessary eventually but Wisconsinites' problems are their own.

In the end what happens is up to both the respective state legislators, the respective voters, and whatever political organizations the unions have on the ground in terms of mobilization for recalls and other rabble-rousing.

That said, the only opinion I have in the end is that the boycotting your own legislature when you were elected to attend is not a form of representation and is a sort of betrayal of representative government.

I also like the idea of intermediary organizations between the government/bureaucracy and the actual teachers, as educators form a necessary function and must be paid; their contracts must not be broken.  Education is necessary and curriculum/tools are necessarily a part of public policy.  If left to the private sector some citizens would not receive any education at all and then they would be burdens on society and insufficiently skilled to even be useful in military functions.

All of that should be self-evident.  On the other hand the notion of public sector unions, strikes against the common citizenry, sick-ins, and a united labor movement resemble partisan organizations that taxpayers fund.

Mind you one of the largest underlying problems facing schools is how our society ended up shaping itself over the past century or so.  Schools are populated generally according to school district and those school districts are organized/determined geographically and the economic (ignoring ethnic or racial) demographics are extremely segregated.  That is to say that skin color aside, the wealthy, middle-class, and poor tend to be sorted apart when it comes to the layouts of cities.  To that end we naturally have wealthy schools, good schools, and school districts that are poorly equipped attended by students from downtrodden homes.  Urban layouts have slowed economic class mobility.

All of this has led to people debating how to pay for a minimal standard of education.  This is a valid and complicated concern and it is not getting simpler.

Ultimately though my underlying concern regarding the class segregation is not the debate at hand.  The debate at hand is symptomatic and short-sighted at best.
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.
While the current debates are necessary the end of those debates will only lead to further partisan bickering, which means the consequences will not be matters of good policy as much as a matter of some further confrontation.

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