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Ball State poll: Half of Hoosiers undecided on right-to-work

December 15, 2011

Republicans in the state Legislature may have a majority of legislators on board to approve a right-to-work law, but a new poll by Ball State University shows many Hoosiers are still making up their minds.

Twenty-seven percent of respondents in the poll support right-to-work legislation, which would allow employees to work at a unionized workplaces without being forced to pay union dues. But a nearly equal percentage of respondents—24 percent—oppose such legislation. The rest, or 48 percent, are undecided on the issue.

“Neither side has closed the sale,” said Ray Scheele, co-director of Ball State’s Bowen Center for Public Affairs, which conducted the annual survey of Hoosiers’ sentiments on state government issues.

Supporters of a right-to-work law say such legislation will help Indiana attract more jobs. If they can convince Hoosiers, they have a strong chance of winning their support. The Ball State survey found that 78 percent of Hoosiers say the No. 1 priority for government action is job creation, which mirrors results from Ball State’s survey a year ago.

But growing the state’s economy is not only about jobs, but also the level of income Hoosiers earn through their work. Opponents of right-to-work legislation say it merely appeals to low-wage employers—and may even be ineffective at doing so.

“The availability of cheap labor overseas limits the effectiveness of [right-to-work] policies to attract companies looking for lower labor costs,” wrote four legislators in a Nov. 4 report that dissented from the decision of an interim legislative study committee to recommend a right-to-work law.

Republicans won a 20-seat majority in the Indiana House of Representatives in the 2010 election, as well as a filibuster-proof majority in the Indiana Senate. They used those advantages in 2011 to pass sweeping education reforms and to cut public funding to abortion provider Planned Parenthood. The GOP also advanced right-to-work legislation before a five-week walkout by Democrats halted that effort.

Some of those moves might have soured public opinion. The state Legislature’s approval rating fell by 10 percentage points this year, to 39 percent. Gov. Mitch Daniels, however, remains popular, with a 52-percent approval rating.

The most popular policy in Ball State’s poll was a statewide smoking ban, which has been proposed for several years and edged close to passage in the 2011 session. Ball State found that 56 percent of Hoosiers support a statewide smoking ban.

Ball State compiled its survey results from 607 telephone interviews, conducted by cell phone and landline, between Nov. 14 and Nov. 17. The poll has a margin of error of 4.4 percent.

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