Why Are Unions More Unpopular Than Ever?

Gallup reports that union support is at an all-time low, having fallen to 48 percent from 59 percent last year and as high as 65 percent this decade. What gives?

Economix has some smart thoughts. Those auto bailouts were outrageous, and Americans could be transferring their frustration over to the unions. Nate Silver has a simpler explanation: Unemployment and falling union support like to hold hands.

Here's a graph he made:

What does that mean? For every percentage point jump in unemployment, Silver calculates that labor support falls by about 2 percentage points, even adjusting for the overall decline in labor participation and approval.

The Gallup data seems to jibe with that interpretation. For the last decade, more than 50 percent of Americans polled have told Gallup that they think unions hurt non-unionized workers. During boom times, that's just a passing feeling that won't necessarily translate into outright disgust at labor. But when unemployment begins to spike and pollsters are asking whether you "support" that group you always suspected worked against your interests, you're more likely to say, "No way, I always thought those unions were trouble."