A poll by Peter Hart Research, one of the nation’s most reputable polling outfits, shows that Americans now support passage of the Employee Free Choice act by a whopping 78 to 22 percent margin, a record level of backing for the measure, which would level the playing field between workers and bosses in union organizing and bargaining.

The Employee Free Choice Act would make it easier to organize unions and bargain for first contracts by requiring company recognition of a union when a majority of workers at a worksite sign cards indicating that they want to be represented by the union. The law would also require binding arbitration of first contracts when the two sides can’t agree on one within 120 days after union recognition.

It would also increase penalties for firms that violate labor laws.

Labor leaders attribute at least some of the growth in support for the bill to a new strategy they discussed at a meeting in the nation’s capital Jan. 7. They called, at that meeting, for a campaign to stress not just the need to fix the current undemocratic laws but for a campaign to show how employee free choice would lead to more union membership, more spending power for workers and therefore a fix for the overall economy.

The campaign seems to have had its effect in the media too, with the New York Times coming out recently in support of the bill because of its potential benefit to the U.S. economy.

The Hart poll, which surveyed 1,007 adults from Dec. 4 – 10, found strong public support for each of the component parts of the Employee Free Choice Act. 75 percent backed union recognition after a majority of workers signs pledge cards, 64 percent supported stronger penalties for companies that violate labor laws, and 61 percent supported binding arbitration. Except among people who identified themselves as conservative republicans, the Employee Free Choice Act drew majority backing among every voter group in all regions of the United States, including the South.

Right-wing republicans, who were 17 percent of the overall sample, opposed the new law by a two to one margin. Democrats, who were 43 percent of the sample, supported it eight to one. Independents, who were one-fourth of the sample, backed it 69 percent to 31 percent.

Unions, while pleased with the survey, warn that there is still much work to be done to guarantee passage of the law. Even in the Hart poll itself, only 47 percent of respondents knew that when National Labor relations Board-run workplace union recognition elections are held, “employers oppose the union and try to convince employees to vote ‘no’,” as the survey put it. 30 percent believe employers take no position on unionization and 21 percent said they don’t know.

The Hart pollsters did not explain the severe and often illegal methods – including firings, discipline, captive-audience meetings and threats to close down – that employers usually use to thwart union organizing drives. The pollsters also did not tell respondents that when the union wins, most employers stall in bargaining, hoping workers will get discouraged and get rid of the union.

Complacency is also not called for, people in the labor movement indicate, because the survey did not ask voters to rank the passage of the law on a list of priorities and also did not ask whether a lawmaker’s vote on the measure would be, for the respondent, a “make or break” issue.

Maeve Ward, an analyst for Peter Hart research said that, despite its importance to the overall economy, “I don’t think it’s on the radar screen of most Americans right now. The economy is blacking out everything else.”