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Voters in battleground districts support $15 minimum wage proposal, survey finds

ANNAPOLIS, MD - MARCH 13: Demonstrators hold signs on the steps of the Maryland State House as people gather to rally for a $15 minimum wage on Wednesday March 13, 2019 in Annapolis, MD. A bill raising the minimum wage to $15 was going to be debated Wednesday. If passed, it would take several years to go into effect. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

As congressional Democrats advance a bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, they’re encountering skepticism from party centrists dubious of the plan’s merits. But a new poll finds that likely voters in Democratic-led swing districts overwhelmingly support efforts to more than double the hourly minimum by 2024. And they say they’re more likely to support the lawmakers who vote that way.

The Raise the Wage Act, introduced by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and co-sponsored by 204 Democrats, would gradually raise the federal minimum from its current $7.25 an hour. It hasn’t changed since July 2009, making this one of the longest periods without a wage increase since the federal minimum was established in 1938.

The battleground survey was sponsored by the National Employment Law Project, a progressive legal group that advocates for raising the federal minimum wage. The group contends the higher worker incomes will stimulate consumer spending and economic growth. Many economists support raising the wage on similar grounds.

Other economists worry that a higher minimum wage will affect overall employment. But the bulk of research conducted in recent years has not found raising the minimum wage to have a significant, negative impact on employment.

“So much of the [minimum wage] discussion that we have here in D.C. is about the ‘economics of this’ and the ‘economics of that,’ and I think we tend to make simple things harder than they need to be,” said Judy Conti, government affairs director for the National Employment Law Project, in an interview. “Low and moderate income workers across the country know that every time the minimum wage is raised they get more money in their pockets. They don’t lose their jobs. They look at their own reality.”

Nevertheless, policymakers have been slow to act on the minimum wage, especially at the federal level. Research has shown that lawmakers in both parties underestimate support among their constituents for raising the minimum wage, in part due to the large role that businesses and trade organizations have in federal policymaking.

The battleground district survey highlights some of this disconnect. Democratic polling firm Hart Research Associates surveyed 800 likely voters across the 57 congressional districts a Democrat won by less than 15 points in 2018. Nearly all of the Democratic lawmakers who have declined to cosponsor the Raise the Wage Act hail from one of these districts.

The survey showed that 65 percent of likely voters in these districts favored raising the minimum wage. That figure includes 89 percent of Democratic voters in those districts, 55 percent of independents, and 46 percent of Republicans.

The strength of support for raising the wage also stood out: The share of voters who strongly favor the wage increase (36 percent) was greater than the total share of voters opposed (32 percent).

Voters in these districts also said that a lawmaker who voted for the minimum wage bill would be, on net, more likely to get their support in the next congressional election: 37 percent said they’d be more likely to vote for a representative who supported the wage hike, while 21 percent said they’d be more likely to oppose such a representative.

Battleground district voters also say, on net, that raising the federal minimum wage would be good for their community: 47 percent said raising the wage to $15 by 2024 would have a positive impact on their community, while 25 percent expected a negative impact.

The minimum wage discussion is happening at a time when many large corporations are rethinking their stance on worker pay. This week McDonald’s announced that it would no longer be lobbying against minimum wage hikes. Last year retail giant Amazon announced it would be raising its minimum wage to $15 nationwide. Earlier this month, Costco announced it was raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour. Target recently announced a similar move.

Despite shifts in public opinion and corporate policy, in Congress, at least, the minimum wage issue remains a one-sided one: to date the Raise the Wage Act has drawn no Republican cosponsors.

The battleground survey was conducted using voter registration lists among a random sample of 800 registered voters in these districts, reached on landline (54 percent) and cell (47 percent) phones. “Likely voters” were defined as those who voted in 2016 or 2018 elections or who registered to vote since last fall’s elections.