Labor takes a victory lap

The labor movement helped win those critical post-globalization, Rust Belt states.

By Thomas Schaller

Published November 10, 2008 7:48PM (EST)

Last Tuesday night when the state of Ohio was called for Barack Obama, effectively ending the 2008 presidential race, I was standing in the AFL-CIO's national headquarters on 16th Street in Washington, just steps away from Lafayette Park and the White House, which soon will be occupied by a man labor's effort helped send there.

Bob Borosage, head of the Campaign for America's Future, was in good spirits. "This victory means labor can stop trying to prevent bad things from happening to American workers and start spending its resources making good things happen." A few feet away stood Karen Ackerman, the AFL-CIO's political director, who helped coordinate the $54 million budget for the AFL-CIO as well an $18 million budget for Working America, who stepped outside the union's headquarters to chat briefly.

"All told, in all the battleground states, Senate and presidential, we were talking to 13 million union voters," Ackerman said, noting that they also worked 70 House and governors races. "The demographic of union members or AFL-CIO members is often older white guys. These folks were the hardest folks to reach. We knew early on that we needed to reach them and make sure that they knew exactly who John McCain is, and what he represents in terms of the same economic policies of the Bush administraiton, and give them a comfort level with Barack Obama. And that's really what the campaign was about."

Courtesy of Tula Connell at the AFL-CIO, here is the rundown on labor's impact on campaign 2008:

  • Union voters supported President-elect Barack Obama 67 percent to 30 percent over Sen. John McCain. In the top-tier battleground states the difference was even more stark, with union members going for Obama 69 to 28 -- a 41-point margin.
  • While McCain won among voters ages 65 and up, active and retired union members older than 65 went for Obama by a 46-point margin.
  • While McCain won among veterans, union veterans went for Obama by a 25-point margin.
  • Working America members, concentrated in key states, supported Obama by 67 percent to 30 percent.
  • 60 percent of union members and 56 percent of Working America members said the economy was a top issue.
  • Union members got a lot of contact from their unions about the election, with more than 80 percent receiving union mail, more than 80 percent receiving union publications, 59 percent getting live phone calls and 32 percent getting worksite fliers.
  • 75 percent of union members say Obama's victory gives him a mandate to make major change. 81 percent support the Employee Free Choice Act.
  • 21 percent of voters were in a union or union household.
  • With 52 percent and more than 62 million votes, Obama has more than surpassed Bush’s 2004 win. His seven-point win over McCain is a decisive victory for pro-working family policies.

Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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