It’s no coincidence that as Republican presidential candidates prepared for last night's debate on the Fox Business Channel, thousands of low-wage workers took to the streets for a national one-day strike. The fight for a living wage for America’s workers is a critical political battlefield, and as we gear up for another conversation around the issues that matter most to Americans, it’s important to dispel the common myths at play around the federal minimum wage.
Since a group of fast-food workers in New York City first took to the streets to demand higher wages three years ago, we have seen a growing movement of workers challenging poverty-wage work, bringing the issue of low wage work to greater national attention. Yesterday, fast food workers, home and child caregivers, and even adjunct professors rallied in 500 cities across the country, including thousands who marched outside the Milwaukee Theater as the remaining Republican presidential candidates took the stage. Together, they spoke their message clearly: $7.25 an hour is not enough to survive.
This is the first time that the Fight for $15 — the national movement to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour — is directly challenging Presidential candidates, and voters, to address this issue. And thus, we have an important moment where these two stories converge – the debate and the protest – allowing us to bring the key question, realities, and misperceptions around the minimum wage to light.
Myth #1: Republican voters oppose a federal minimum-wage increase.
When reporters discuss the federal minimum wage the political context is often oversimplified, implying Republicans largely oppose an increase, while Democrats all support one. But don’t believe this storyline! Polling by Oxfam America and GOP pollster John McLaughlin found that most Republicans (77%) in key battleground states support one or more proposals to increase in the federal minimum wage to $9, $10, $12 or $15 an hour. While most GOP voters support an increase, unfortunately most GOP candidates and members of Congress have yet to catch up. Thankfully, a few GOP candidates – Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Rick Santorum – have suggested the minimum wage should be increased, highlighting that this issue is not a purely partisan issue.
One caveat our polls did find is that GOP voters are less likely to support a minimum wage as high as $15 an hour (31%) than voters generally, a majority (50%) of whom support such an increase. More GOP voters support a federal minimum wage of $9 (66%), $10 (53%) or $12 (40%) each of which also have strong support from Independents and Democrats.
Myth #2: Republican candidates who support a federal minimum wage can’t win the nomination.
A common election-season storyline is that GOP candidates can’t touch certain generally popular positions, including the minimum wage, that are presumed to be unpopular with base voters who often determine who wins primaries. Still the Oxfam America/McLaughlin & Associates surveys of Iowa and New Hampshire GOP caucus and primary voters show that even among these very conservative electorates, a majority still supports an increase in the minimum wage (58% in Iowa and 59% in New Hampshire).
Even among early-state primary/caucus voters who opposed an increase, most say they could still vote for a candidate who supports one. Primary and caucus voters were particularly supportive of an increase in the federal minimum wage if it could help to reduce low-income working families’ reliance on government assistance, or if it were paired with tax reform to help small businesses.
Myth #3: Low-wage workers and their families won’t be a powerful voting bloc in 2016.
Low-income voters are often assumed to be less active and influential in US elections. Still, the growing numbers of workers and family members touched by low-wage work mean that low-wage working families now makeup a substantial bloc of voters.
In fact, the Oxfam America/McLaughlin Associates poll found that 41% of voters (including 29% of GOP voters and 37% of Independents) would benefit financially or know a family member who would benefit from a $12 federal minimum wage, and almost universally support at least some increase in the federal minimum wage (97%).
Particularly in key swing states where winners are determined by small blocs of voters, positions on the minimum wage could be a key to winning the Presidency.
This story originally appeared on Oxfam America's site The Politics of Poverty.
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