Politics of Poverty

New poll on minimum wage every GOP candidate should read this Labor Day

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Polling data that shows voter support for one or more of the proposals to increase the minimum wage. Source: Oxfam America and John McLaughlin

An open letter to Republican presidential candidates.

Dear Republican Presidential Hopefuls:

Before you bite into that first hotdog off the grill, head out to a house party, gas up your Harley, or limber up for a good parade, this Labor Day weekend you should review new polling data from Oxfam America and respected veteran Republican pollster John McLaughlin about the support for raising the federal minimum wage in key 2016 states.

Surveys of likely GOP caucus and primary voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, and likely general election voters in seven swing states, show that candidates who oppose an increase in the federal minimum wage will draw few supporters in the early nominating contests, while candidates who support a federal minimum wage increase start the general election at huge advantage among likely voters in swing states.

An increase in the federal minimum wage has very strong support among key electoral groups, such as independents, voters under 40, women, Latinos and non-college educated men. Many Republican leaders analyzing the 2012 election, including those participating in the Republican National Committee’s Growth and Opportunity Project, believe future elections will depend on reaching across traditional divides to these voters. One of the leaders of that project, RNC Committeeman Henry Barbour of Mississippi, said reflecting on Oxfam’s new minimum wage poll, “If Republicans want to broaden our coalition and attract more voters, we need to support policy that shows that we care about working class people. GOP leaders should be open-minded about policy to help a working mom with two jobs and two kids get more than $7.25 per hour.”

Despite an economic recovery that has seen corporate profits and the stock market rebound, the majority of voters six years after the recession report their incomes have either stagnated or decreased, and are hungry for a candidate willing to take action on increasing wages. Overall, our new poll makes very clear that including support for an increased federal minimum wage as part of a broader economic vision is a win for Republican and Democratic candidates alike.

Over 35.5 million hard working Americans put in an honest day’s work, yet struggle to support their families on low wages.  These are the very same workers likely to be cleaning up after the Labor Day parades, preparing those delicious dogs, or caring for our children and parents, along with countless other essential jobs. The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 per hour for more than six years. This works out to $290 a week, or slightly over $15,000 a year, a rate which has fallen far behind increases in the cost of living—as prices on groceries, rent, education, and other essentials continue to rise. The current minimum wage forces working families to rely on government assistance, like food stamps or tax credits, costing taxpayers over $150 billion annually, and relying on charities like food banks and soup kitchens, just to make ends meet. Despite stereotypes, the overwhelming majority of minimum-wage workers are not teenagers; on average they are 35 years old and contribute the majority of their family income.

The New York Times today cites a National Employment Law Project study showing that take-home pay for many American workers has effectively fallen since the economic recovery began in 2009, with low wage workers bearing a disproportionate brunt of falling incomes.

In Iowa and New Hampshire, home of the first caucus and primary in 2016, the minimum wage remains stuck at $7.25.  In seven of the most important general election swing states (Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Nevada, New Hampshire, Virginia) their collective minimum wages averages out to at $7.76, not much higher than the federal minimum wage.  According to our poll, 41 percent of swing state voters say they or a family member are a low wage worker who would benefit from a $12 minimum wage increase, and these voters pretty much all favor an increase in the wage (96%) and over 87 percent of these voters say they are more willing to support a candidate who favors a minimum wage increase.

So far, all of the major Democratic candidates for President and a few of the Republicans (Ohio Gov. John Kasich on Tuesday said he backs a “reasonable” federal minimum wage increase) have embraced supporting an increased federal minimum wage. For candidates who have not yet embraced an increase, the poll is particularly educational. In early primaries and caucuses, it turns out the benefits of attacking the federal minimum wage (or an increase in the wage) are pretty small. Fewer than one in eight likely GOP voters in early nominating states do not support any increase in the federal minimum wage and would not vote for a presidential candidate who supports an increase. In fact, a majority of early primary voters support at least one proposal (to $9, $10, $12 or $15) to increase the federal minimum wage (58 percent in Iowa and 59 percent in New Hampshire).

Conversely, the benefits of supporting an increase in the federal minimum wage in the general election are large. By greater than a 3-to-1 ratio (64 percent to 18 percent), nearly two-thirds are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports increasing the minimum wage. Overall, increasing the federal minimum wage is a winning issue in the general election. Eighty-seven percent of general election voters support at least one proposal for a federal minimum-wage increase, compared with just 13 percent who do not support any increase. This includes majorities of Republican (77 percent), independent (88 percent) and Democratic (96 percent) swing state voters.

I hope you enjoy your Labor Day holiday, get yourself some delicious barbeque (I know I will) and get a chance to hear from the working class voters who continue to struggle in this country. But I also hope you will consider giving hardworking families a hand by supporting an increase in the federal minimum wage.



P.S. If you want to learn more, please check out links to our pollster’s memo and the poll topline results below.

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