On November 9, 2022, the Illinois Constitutional Amendment 1, also known as the “Workers’ Rights Amendment,” was approved by the majority of the 4.1 million voters who cast a ballot in the election (58.1% to be specific). Constitutional amendments must be approved by Illinois voters through a referendum garnering either half the overall vote (as it was in this case) or 60% of votes cast on a particular question. The amendment adds language to the Illinois constitution to establish the right of employees to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their choosing for the purpose of negotiating wages, hours, and working conditions, and to protect their economic welfare and safety at work. Moreover, it prohibits Illinois lawmakers from enacting legislation that infringes upon employees’ collective bargaining rights to prevent the implementation of “right-to-work” legislation in Illinois. The amendment's passage was a victory for organized labor, re-elected incumbent Democratic Governor J.B. Pritzker, and Democrats who control the Illinois General Assembly (ILGA).
However, the amendment was not a foregone conclusion or universally supported. In particular, the WRA’s passage also noteworthy because despite Pritzker’s stable (50%) approval rating and the Democrats’ supermajority in the ILGA, a “red wave” had been predicted during the 2022 midterms. Moreover, as recently as 2020 during an otherwise excellent year for Democratic candidates and issues, half of Illinois voters rejected Governor Pritzker and his legislative allies’ “Fair Tax Amendment,” which would have enabled a graduated income tax on the state’s highest earners. Like the Workers’ Rights Amendment (WRA), the Fair Tax Amendment (FTA) was endorsed by organized labor and hundreds of influential advocacy organizations; yet it only garnered 45% support among voters. Considering countervailing political forces, what explains the WRA’s success?
This is a pertinent topic because despite being among the most influential interest groups in American politics, public support for organized labor is tenuous and structured by a range of factors including class conflict, political partisanship, racial attitudes, and media coverage. Finally, many factors structure support for ballot measures including referenda language, endorsements, and voter knowledge. To better understand Illinois voter attitudes toward the Workers’ Rights Amendment and how it passed, we conducted an experimental survey of likely Illinois voters before the 2022 midterms.
The survey measured individual attributes such as partisanship, union membership, education, etc. and exposed voters to referenda language treatments such as arguments for/against and endorsements alongside support, opposition, and ambivalence toward the WRA. Importantly, the sample of people in our survey is representative of the Illinois voting population. To be transparent, we present some of our analysis below. Though we only present a small segment for the sake of reader time, more will be presented in future work from our team.
Beginning with partisanship, Democrats were significantly more likely to support the WRA than Republicans or Independents. Republicans, in contrast, were most likely to oppose the amendment. Both findings are not necessarily surprising. Interestingly, independents were more likely to report that they were undecided on the WRA than the partisans.
Table 1: Attitudes Toward the WRA by Party Affiliation
Interestingly, while Democrats were already favorable towards the amendment, Republicans were somewhat persuadable. Republicans presented with arguments in support of the WRA were significantly more likely to support the amendment than those presented with no arguments. As the plot below illustrates, Republicans (red dots) that were presented with Pro-WRA arguments were 11 percent more likely to support the amendment than other Republicans. There was no such effect for Democrats (blue dots) or Independents (green dots). These findings suggest that the arguments being made by advocates and detractors in advance of the election had at least a partial impact on the attitudes of voters.