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Labor Wins Back Working-Class Whites on Issue 2 in Ohio

Last night, Ohioans soundly turned back an assault on worker’s rights, defeating Issue 2 with 61% of the vote, and repealing the anti-labor SB 5. And they did it with a broad coalition, which points to a total reversal of the voting bloc that brought Governor John Kasich to power in 2010. It could have long-lasting implications for 2012 and beyond.

Guy Molyneux of Hart Research did polling last night for the AFL-CIO on Issue 2. And he released some eye-popping numbers on a conference call. Independents favored No on 2 by a 57-43 margin. This group voted for John Kasich in 2010, according to exit polls, by a 59-41 margin, a reversal of 32 points. And the numbers were even starker among working-class white voters. They went No on 2 with 61% of the vote, the same share as the overall electorate. In 2010, that group voted 57-43 for Kasich, a 36-point difference. White working class voters only give Kasich a 41% approval rating. Overall, 66% of Ohioans favor collective bargaining.

That is a sea change in electoral politics in the course of just one year. Labor took over 90% of Democrats and 30% of Republicans in their broad coalition, along with 57% of independents. To be sure, the electorate looked more Democratic; the breakdown of those asked who they voted for last year was 46-43 Strickland, with 11% not disclosing. But Molyneux added that Kasich has become so unpopular that many voters may have just “forgotten” their prior support of him. And the larger point is that turnout was the highest in 20 years for an off-year election, which points to the notion that the 2011 coalition looks a lot like Ohio. 46% of registered voters took part yesterday, a number that will probably increase. Moreover, 26% of Kasich voters rejected Issue 2 yesterday, and they disapprove of him by a 62-28 margin.

Wisconsin’s recalls showed similar gains among the white working class. Without the white working class firmly in their corner, Republicans have a hard time winning elections. Focusing on the assault on worker’s rights, and the inequities in the economic system exploited by corporations, creates an alternative in the minds of the white working class. It’s the antidote to “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”

Public Policy Polling extrapolated this to the Presidential race, and found President Obama well in front of all rivals, by double digits in every case except the 9-point lead over Mitt Romney. The issues will be different and so will the electorate, but the lesson was that when the electorate is motivated, they can be mobilized in Ohio in support of liberal values.

But can they act on the offense, rather than protecting current rights in a rearguard action? AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said on the conference call that his organization is putting in place a permanent structure, to move seamlessly from electoral action to advocacy to accountability. The coalition that supported efforts in Ohio, and earlier in the year in Wisconsin, drew from all unions and progressive groups in the state. Properly resourced, that coalition can be powerful if they attempted to present their own ballot measure in some state, like guaranteed paid sick leave, for example, or card check.

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David Dayen

David Dayen