The problem Dems face this cycle is perhaps best summed up by this line from John Harwood: “The very structure of the 21st-century national Democratic coalition makes its November turnout predicament bad, perhaps historically so.”
In other words, some the very groups Dems increasingly rely upon to win state and national elections are also the least likely to turn out in a midterm: Minorities, young voters, and unmarried women. Exacerbating this problem, control of the Senate will be mostly decided in seven red states, where the electorates are already older, whiter, and redder than the diversifying national electorate.
Can the push for a minimum wage hike help offset this crushing political reality?
The Dem minimum wage push is part of the “Fair Shot” 2014 campaign blueprint, which is designed to sharpen the economic contrast by offering concrete policies to help working and middle class Americans while Republicans offer Obamacare repeal as their economic cure all. But the minimum wage focus is also about boosting turnout among those groups by giving them a reason to vote in a midterm.
Veteran Dem pollster Celinda Lake argues that the minimum wage has particular resonance for those specific groups, which pollsters refer to as the “Rising American Electorate,” or RAE. The minimum wage issue has a greater impact on these voters, and it very clearly frames a race by giving them something to vote for.
“The RAE are disproportionately minimum wage earners, or in the next tier up, where wages also tend to go up” if the minimum wage is raised, Lake tells me. “This is a great way to frame a race. It gives voters a way to say, `just tell me whether you’re for or against this.'”
Lake says the issue has particular meaning for unmarried women, who drop off faster than married women in midterms and are emerging as a key demographic this year. “The minimum wage is a huge issue among single women, particularly single moms,” Lake says. “Unmarried women feel no one is talking about anything that effects their lives. This can really motivate them to vote.”
This is why you’re seeing candidates like Alison Lundergan Grimes stress the minimum wage in Kentucky, where downscale women are seen as a critical swing constituency. It’s also why Dems are heavily stressing equal pay, which pairs well with the minimum wage to create a pocketbook appeal to this demographic.
It matters to other RAE groups, too: “African Americans have plummeting turnout rates in off year elections — but telling African Americans to go vote yourself a raise is extremely popular,” Lake says. “Young voters are heavy minimum wage earners.”
Dems also hope this strategy will get an added boost from minimum wage state-based ballot initiatives. As Michael Shear details, activists are pushing such initiatives in multiple states, including ones with hard-fought Senate races such as Michigan, Alaska, and Arkansas — where any added turnout could be critical.
The big unknown is whether the popularity of the minimum wage hike will actually help boost voter turnout to the level Dems need to offset deep structural disadvantages that will be exacerbated by the fact that Republicans have the hated Obamacare to drive them to the polls.
As Ed Kilgore explains well, issues and messaging may matter a whole lot less than good old fashioned GOTV will in getting out marginal Dem voters. But all indications are that Dems recognize this, as evidenced by plans to spend $60 million on a massive expansion of turnout machinery. Giving voters something to vote for — like a raise — can be done on top of that, and theoretically can only help.