In an update of a question asked in 1957, 71% of Americans said they would "vote for" a right-to-work law if they had the opportunity to do so, while 22% said they would vote against such a law. That is a slightly higher level of support than Gallup measured nearly 60 years ago.
Currently, 24 U.S. states have right-to-work laws in place, including Indiana and Michigan who passed theirs in 2012. The Indiana law's fate is uncertain given recent legal challenges to it. The states with right-to-work laws tend to be Republican-leaning states, mostly in the South, Mountain West, and Plains areas of the country. That is consistent with the preferences of rank-and-file Republicans nationally, who disapprove of unions by 57% to 32%, and support right-to-work laws by 74% to 18%. Democrats, meanwhile, overwhelmingly approve of labor unions. Interestingly, though, most Democrats favor right-to-work laws, and their support nearly matches that of Republicans.
Gallup has a limited sample of union members in its poll, and the data suggest that they are divided in their views of right-to-work laws rather than being outright opposed to them.
Although Americans widely favor right-to-work laws, only about half of the states have passed such laws. The right-to-work debate is ongoing in states like Ohio and Wisconsin, and New Mexico and Kentucky may adopt those laws if Republicans win control of the legislatures in those states in the next election.
The evidence for whether right-to-work laws are a net positive or net negative to states is mixed. On the one hand, consistent with the arguments of proponents, right-to-work states do appear to attract more business than states without such laws. On the other hand, consistent with the arguments of proponents, workers in right-to-work states appear to be worse off in terms of pay and benefits than workers in other states.
It is clear that whether a state has a right-to-work law in place is a reflection of the politics surrounding labor unions, with Democrats showing much greater support for labor unions than Republicans. Political leaders in states that tend to be politically Democratic and where Democrats are currently in power are unlikely to pursue laws strongly opposed by unions. Most Republican-leaning states already have such laws in place, consistent with Republicans' more anti-union stance. States that are more competitive politically may enact right-to-work laws if Republicans can win party control of the state government, as occurred in Michigan and may happen in Kentucky and New Mexico.
Americans, though, are clearly less supportive of labor unions, and somewhat more supportive of right-to-work laws, than in the past. Union membership is also on the decline, which in turn makes unions less of a political force than they used to be. If these trends continue, more states could adopt right-to-work laws in the future.