Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an issue that was hugely popular with the public, fit perfectly into the progressive agenda, appealed to the white working class, and split the Republican Party right in half? Sounds to be good to be true, right? Actually, it’s hiding in plain sight: raising the minimum wage.
Start with overall public opinion. The public’s views on many policy issues can be very complicated; there are nuances to the nuances, so to speak. The polling on the minimum wage, however, is about as unnuanced as it comes. People just think it’s the right thing to do and decades of attempts by conservatives to convince the public otherwise have been an abject failure. Take, for instance, this Pew Research poll from early 2013. By a thumping 71-26 margin, the public said it favored increasing the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.00 an hour.
Moreover, there was astonishingly strong support across demographic groups. Blacks and Hispanics supported the proposal by 91-8 and 83-14, respectively, and whites felt similarly by a not-as-large-but-still-strong 64-33 margin. Those with family incomes below $30,000 supported raising the minimum wage by 79-20, but so did those with incomes above $75,000, who were also on board by a high (65-32) margin:
Unsurprisingly, Democrats and independents supported a higher minimum wage by, respectively, 87-11 and 68-28. But here’s where it gets really interesting: Republicans also supported a rate hike, albeit by a narrow 50-47 margin. So raising the minimum wage roughly slices the GOP down the middle.
This split in support has a very distinct class character. Working class (non-college) Republicans supported the proposal by 58-40, while college-educated Republicans opposed it by 60-34. Similarly, low income Republicans (less than $30,000) supported raising the minimum wage by 68-31 while high income Republicans (over $75,000) opposed such a raise by 57-40:
Of course, even strenuous advocacy of raising the minimum wage will not suddenly persuade a majority of white working class Republicans to support progressive candidates. But even modest white working class defections wouldgo a long way, even — or perhaps especially — in red states.
No wonder Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is running for Mitch McConnell’s seat in Kentucky, is making a higher minimum wage a central part of her campaign. In fact, the only really hard thing to understand here is why more candidates with progressive views on the minimum wage aren’t following Grimes’ lead. Let’s hope in the future they will.