One of my pet ideas is that people in DC spend way too much time gazing at surveys of the public’s hazy opinions on issues and not enough time gazing at surveys of what the public thinks of different kinds of people. So let me link again to this table from the latest NBC poll (PDF):
The disparate polling for “teachers,” “teachers unions,” and “labor unions,” is telling. Among political elites, virtually everyone is more critical of teachers unions than of unions in general. But the voters like teachers a lot. So the voters’ view of teachers unions is basically a mix of their feelings about teachers (strongly positive) and their feelings about unions (very mixed). Consequently, teachers unions get pretty good marks.
This is one reason why despite my sellout neoliberal views on education policy, I’m sort of sanguine about teachers unions. Current education policy over-weights the interests of incumbent teachers. But if unions are banned tomorrow, that’s not going to stop teachers from organizing politically on behalf of their own interests. We have lots of non-union organizational forms to do that. And any kind of teachers’ lobby is going to be pretty politically effective, since the public likes teachers more than it likes politicians or journalists. Meanwhile, situating teachers’ pursuit of their interests in a labor union context brings with it lots of ancillary political benefits that the American Dental Association’s efforts to advance the interests of dentists doesn’t offer.