Democrats’ quest for a $15/hour minimum wage may be over before it even began. The Senate parliamentarian ruled this week that it cannot be passed, as currently constructed, by reconciliation as part of Democrats’ Covid-19 relief belief. That means this increase in the minimum wage needs 60 votes, not a simple majority, to pass the Senate.
With Democrats controlling just 50 seats in the Senate, this makes for an uphill battle for them.
Still, polling and election results show Democrats should be hesitant to give up too quickly. A $15 minimum wage is quite popular and does well among voters who haven’t been voting Democratic the last few cycles.
Take a look at a recent Quinnipiac University poll.
The poll released in early February found that 61% of registered voters supported raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. Opposition stood at 37%.
In the same poll, President Joe Biden’s approval rating clocked in at 50% among registered voters.
In other words, support for a higher minimum wage was bigger than the baseline Democratic support.
Further, the popularity of a $15 minimum wage is something we have seen replicated in at least one recent election: Florida’s 2020 campaign.
A $15 minimum wage by 2026 passed with 61% of the vote.
Biden, of course, lost in Florida. He got 48% of the vote, and it was one of the rare states where Biden lost by more than Clinton did in 2016.
When you dig further into both the polling and Florida returns, you see why the minimum wage does better than Biden: The issue seems to do much better than the Democratic baseline among groups who either aren’t Democrats or have been shifting to the right in the past few elections.
The increase in the minimum wage is something that is far more popular among Republicans and independents than Biden. His approval ratings with Republicans and independents stood at 11% and 44% in the Quinnipiac poll, while approval for a $15 minimum wage came in at 32% and 63% respectively.
Among Democrats, Biden’s approval rating (89%) is basically the same as support for a $15 minimum wage (88%).
LIkewise, people of color and White people without a college degree are much more supportive of a $15 minimum wage (79% and 47%) than they are of Biden (60% and 33%). White working class voters were Donald Trump’s base and people of color were less supportive of Biden than they were of Hillary Clinton.
If Democrats are looking for something that appeals to the mythical White working class voter, the minimum wage may be it.
Concentrating on the Florida returns, a look at the map reveals that the $15 minimum wage outperformed Biden all over the place. The wage hike got 71% of the vote in heavily Hispanic Miami-Dade. Biden picked up 53% of the vote, a relatively weak performance for a Democrat there.
Similarly, the $15 minimum wage picked up 45% of the vote in the panhandle’s Bay County, while Biden picked up a mere 28%. Bay is disproportionately White and has fewer college educated adults compared to the state and nation.
Note that in these two dissimilar places in Florida (both in terms of demographics and geography), the minimum wage outperformed Biden by more than its overperformance statewide.
Interestingly, approval of Biden at 59% and support for a minimum wage increase at 60% are nearly identical in the Quinnipiac poll among White adults with a college degree, who have been becoming more Democratic in the past couple of years.
It seems at least somewhat possible that some senators don’t recognize how popular a minimum wage increase is because it’s not one that falls neatly along the traditional demographic and ideological lines.
There may be a blind spot because most senators are White, well-educated and wealthy. This is a group of people who are less likely to be in favor of a minimum wage increase, once you control for partisanship.
Prior polling from the Pew Research Center shows that Republicans whose family income is less than $40,000 a year are 22 points more likely to be in favor of a $15 minimum wage than adults whose family income is $75,000 or more per year.
Now, we obviously don’t know if embracing a $15 minimum wage will actually help Democrats nationally. It’s tough to see how it hurts, though.
If a $15 minimum wage can do so much better than Biden the national polling and in a state Democrats would love to win in the future like Florida, then it would make sense for them to be more forcibly behind it on a national level.