On Thursday, after Democrats’ bruising losses on Election Day, members of several powerful labor unions swarmed a Washington, D.C., park a stone’s throw from Senate offices. They waved signs with slogans such as “Stop Corporate Trade Deals,” “Tax Wall Street” and even “Bernie 2020.”
Most prevalent: signs opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, whose prospects for approval have now been declared null.
“TPP, RIP!” the crowd shouted at one point.
Strikingly, unions — long a cornerstone of the Democratic party — were celebrating the death of a trade agreement negotiated by Democrats and that Hillary Clinton praised before changing her tune and advocating against it. It’s now clear that Republican Donald Trump’s anti-trade deal message resonated with many union members, and Clinton’s support among them was weaker than expected.
Clinton’s underperformance among union members came despite union bosses spending tens of millions of dollars supporting Clinton’s bid. Union-related political action committees, for example, gave more than $17 million to Priorities USA Action, the main super PAC boosting her candidacy, and more than $21 million to For Our Future, another super PAC focused on convincing Americans to vote for Clinton and other Democrats.
The AFL-CIO stressed that Clinton won more union member votes than Trump despite Trump’s efforts to appeal to workers. The union released exit poll numbers showing Clinton won union households by 51 percent to 43 percent, and she carried union members by 56 percent to 37 percent.
Nonetheless, Clinton’s support from union households was 10 points lower than President Barack Obama’s support four years ago, according to exit poll data released by Fox News.
In the end, labor supported Trump more than it did 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney — 3 percentage points better among union households and 4 percentage points better among union members.
With nearly 15 million union members in the United States, this shift from election to election translated into hundreds of thousands of votes for Trump.
Trump “used our rhetoric on trade and keeping jobs in America,” the AFL-CIO said, adding, “he forged a personal connection with working people by acknowledging their resentment about the rules being written to marginalize them.”