Donald Trump Is Slipping Among Union Voters, Says AFL-CIO

The labor federation insists the "union workers love Trump" storyline is fiction.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump bragged that union members "will be voting for me in much larger numbers" than they will for his opponent, Hillary Clinton.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump bragged that union members "will be voting for me in much larger numbers" than they will for his opponent, Hillary Clinton.
Mike Segar/Reuters

Throughout Donald Trump’s run for the presidency, press reports have suggested the GOP nominee possesses a unique allure for union voters that could help him win the White House. A March headline from The Huffington Post helped perpetuate the idea: “Donald Trump’s Working-Class Appeal Is Starting To Freak Out Labor Unions.”

The AFL-CIO says not to buy it.

On Wednesday, the nation’s largest union federation took the unusual step of releasing some of its internal polling numbers on the general election. In its recent poll of union members in five battleground states ― Florida, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin ― Trump’s support came in at 36 percent, the AFL-CIO said.

That’s a drop from 41 percent in the same states in mid-June, according to the federation.

A few caveats: The AFL-CIO only disclosed the numbers noted above. It didn’t release the full poll results, including union members’ support for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

The group also doesn’t indicate how many of the union members polled were Democrats or Republicans. If Trump held 36 percent of an overwhelmingly Democratic pool, then he isn’t doing badly at all. On the other hand, if the poll included a large share of Republicans, then the numbers don’t bode well for him.

Michael Podhorzer, the AFL-CIO’s political director, said the federation rarely shares its internal numbers with the press, but in this case, they thought an exception was warranted.

“There are so many stories that bind one or two big Trump supporters who [are union members] and build their story around that with no data,” Podhorzer explained. “We really think it’s important for people to understand that Trump may have excited some union members more than previous Republican candidates, but he hasn’t extended the number of union members who support him, despite what he claims. That’s borne out by our internal polling.”

He attributes declining support for Trump partly to the federation’s own outreach to its members. The AFL-CIO has been calling union houses and sending out flyers painting Trump as a businessman who stiffs workers, relies on overseas labor and thinks wages are too high. “We have a lot of credibility with members,” Podhorzer said.

“There’s no basis for the idea that Trump is making inroads in the union community. Quite the contrary.”

- AFL-CIO Political Director Michael Podhorzer

Union members and their families tend to reflect the general population more than a lot of people assume, both politically and demographically. In several past elections, around 40 percent of union households voted for the Republican presidential candidate, according to exit polls. And rather than being the monolithic white, male bloc that many people picture, union members are increasingly women and people of color. Black workers are actually more likely to be union members than white ones.

In other words, “union members” are a complicated lot. And while Trump may insist he has union voters in hand ― “their members will be voting for me in much larger numbers,” the candidate boasted when the AFL-CIO endorsed Clinton ― the AFL-CIO claims he is doing no better among its members than former GOP nominee Mitt Romney was at this point in 2012.

“There’s no basis for the idea that Trump is making inroads in the union community,” Podhorzer said. “Quite the contrary.”

Eric Hauser, an AFL-CIO spokesman, said the union federation plans to kick off its final election sprint this coming Saturday, with events in Missouri, Nevada, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida and North Carolina. That includes door-to-door canvassing and heavy phone-banking in support of Clinton.

The federation’s president, Richard Trumka, will be campaigning in Pennsylvania next week and Ohio the following week. As HuffPost recently reported, the AFL-CIO’s non-union arm, Working America, has been canvassing heavily in those two states to counter Trump’s appeal in the Rust Belt.

“He’s laying claim to a voting bloc which is not uniform anyway, but in a way a Republican candidate never has,” Hauser said of Trump’s proclamations about his union support. “So we’re going directly at that, making the case that this is not a man on your side, this is not someone who will stand up for you.”

Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.

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