President Obama's supporters celebrate his reelection in Chicago.… (Shawn Thew / European Pressphoto…)
WASHINGTON — Well aware that unions played a prominent role in supporting the incumbent’s effective ground game, the AFL-CIO celebrated President Obama’s reelection, though its leadership was keen to emphasize that its fight isn’t over.
“Working people all across the country are waking up today with a renewed sense of faith in our future,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said at the beginning of a news conference Wednesday.
“Last night, you saw what our nation is — Latinos, young people, African Americans, union families, a very vibrant multiracial, multi-ethnic, multigenerational country whose electorate and leaders are slowly becoming more representative of who we are,” he said.
INTERACTIVE: National election results
But for those demographic groups to have a voice, they have to reach the polls, and AFL-CIO leaders applauded the widespread efforts of members and volunteers in turning out the vote.
Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the AFL-CIO political committee chairman, deemed election efforts “the smartest, biggest, broadest effort labor’s ever run.” The effort highlighted the “largest, most effective independent voter mobilization initiative in history,” he said.
AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt-Baker also praised union efforts, particularly in the face of a spirited Republican backlash.
“The opposition tried every trick in the book. There was just one flaw in their playbook — they underestimated us,” she said.
As for the efficacy of union efforts to sway non-union voters, Guy Molyneux, partner at Hart Research Associates, pointed to exit polling conducted among 819 non-union voters.
Sixty-two percent said that wealthy Americans should pay their fair share of taxes, with just 33% in favor of decreasing the tax burden of the upper class. And 65% said that the auto bailout played a role in influencing their vote, with a 32-point split in favor of Obama among those individuals. And, to speak to why Obama carried Ohio, polling among working-class, non-union residents of the crucial battleground state favored Obama over Romney, 62% to 35%.
Elizabeth Schuler, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, emphasized the human element involved in the union’s efforts.
“What sometimes gets lost is the human force behind the campaign,” she said, highlighting individuals who go unmentioned amid the poll numbers, advertising and fundraising, such as a Wisconsin woman who was spurred on by women’s health issues to rally a Madison phone bank and a GM employee who credits Obama with her job and the survival of her community.
“That’s what cuts through the noise of all of these negative ads,” Schuler said.
But for all of the celebration and the results that worked out in their favor, Trumka was sure to temper expectations, because there’s plenty on labor's agenda, and Obama's, that remains unfulfilled.
“We have no illusions it’s going to be easy,” he said.