New poll shows support for Tennessee "right-to-work" law at 44%, Gov. Lee at 52%

NASHVILLE -- Newly released polling shows nearly 4 in 10 Tennessee voters surveyed remain undecided on how they will vote on Amendment 1, a state ballot measure on the Nov. 8 ballot that seeks to embed the state's 75-year-old "right-to-work" law in the Tennessee Constitution.

The online survey of 541 voters was conducted Oct. 20-21 by RABA Research. It found 38% of respondents were unsure how they would vote on the proposal. Forty-four percent said they supported the amendment, and 19% said they intended to vote no.

"With less than two weeks remaining until Election Day, a full quarter of respondents are unaware of potential changes to Tennessee's state constitution," RABA Research said in its polling memo, provided to the Chattanooga Times Free Press on Friday by the polling firm.

Asked whether they knew that there were any constitutional amendments on the ballot -- there are a total of four, including the union amendment -- 74% said they were aware there were, but 26% said they did not.

Pollsters also posed a second question on the governor's race. The results? Fifty-two percent of those surveyed said they intend to vote for Republican Gov. Bill Lee as he seeks a second term.

Another 28% said they would vote for his Democratic challenger, Jason Martin. Six percent said they intended to vote for someone else, while 14% of respondents said they weren't sure.

The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.18%. RABA, an abbreviation of "Red America, Blue America," says it was founded in 2016 by a bipartisan group of political professionals. The firm's surveys have a B/C rating from polling experts at FiveThirtyEight.

John Davis, a partner at RABA Research, said in an email response to questions that the firm paid for and executed the poll itself.

The firm "chose Tennessee largely because there has not been much public polling on the governor's race or on the Amendment 1 question," Davis said. "The sample is made up of registered voters who described themselves as 'almost certain' or would 'probably' vote. People who did not describe themselves as such did not participate further.

"I would prefer to let the results speak for themselves," Davis added. "However, I will point out that Gov. Lee won in 2018 by 19 points, and our survey shows him up by 24 points."

"Right-to-work" laws like Tennessee already has on the books prohibit a company and a union from signing a contract that would require nonunion workers to pay dues or fees to the union that represents them. Labor unions and other opponents fighting the amendment say it isn't needed in the state constitution because Tennessee's 1947 state law already achieves that and there is no threat of it of being repealed in a state dominated by Republicans.

In its phrasing on the question regarding Amendment 1, RABA Research asked voters: "In November's election, you will be asked if you support Amendment 1, which would alter Tennessee's constitution to allow workers covered by the benefits of a union contract to choose to not pay dues/fees to the labor union. How do you plan on voting for Amendment 1?"

The Yes on 1 effort is backed by business groups as well as top Republicans, including Lee and his immediate predecessor, Republican Bill Haslam, who is serving as treasurer of the Yes on 1.

The committee earlier this month released results from its own survey, conducted Oct. 5-7 by Cygnal, a polling and research firm. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.34%. Cygnal's work has a B+ rating from FiveThirtyEight.

"We asked the question two ways," Josh Thomas, a veteran Tennessee Republican political consultant involved in the Yes on 1 effort, said by email. "First, we asked exactly like the ballot will read in order to gauge voters who have no prior education on it."

The first question posed by Yes on 1 reads: "Would you vote 'yes' to support or "no" to oppose Amendment 1, which would add a new section to the Tennessee Constitution that reads as follows: 'It is unlawful for any person, corporation, association or this state or its political subdivisions to deny or attempt to deny employment to any person by reason of the person's membership in, affiliation with, resignation from or refusal to join or affiliate with any labor union or employee organization.'"

Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they supported the language, while 21% said they opposed it. Twenty percent were unsure.

"Then," Thomas continued, "we asked a version that was plain language: Amendment 1 is a right-to-work amendment and would make it illegal for workplaces to require mandatory labor union membership for employees as a condition for employment. Knowing this, would you vote 'yes' or 'no' to Amendment 1?"

Again, 58% said they supported the amendment, while 25% said they opposed it, and 16% said they were unsure, Thomas said.

Thomas said there is another survey he ascribed to the "No on 1" group, which he described as a "push poll if there ever was one." The group has received part of its funding from the Service Employees International Union.

Thomas said the script reads: "Amendment 1 will permanently rig our economy with a law that causes lower wages, underfunded schools and more workplace deaths. In the upcoming election, will you help by saying no to greedy corporations' effort to rewrite our constitution."

Tennessee is one of 27 states with "right-to-work" laws.

Efforts by the United Auto Workers to unionize Volkswagen's assembly plant in Chattanooga have twice failed. Similar efforts at Nissan in Smyrna have as well. But General Motors in Spring Hill has UAW representation.

And the UAW is expected to mount a unionization effort at union-friendly Ford Motor Co.'s planned $5.8 billion electric vehicle plant, which is being built in rural West Tennessee as a result of Lee's efforts.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.