by Paul Sonn, NELP Action
Labor Day has started the sprint to the November election. And with more than 40 percent of U.S. workers struggling on less than $15 an hour, our economy’s tilt toward low-paying jobs has become a top economic issue this year.
Now, as GOP leaders fret that Donald Trump may drag down Republican incumbents, turning more U.S. Senate races into toss-ups, the Republican majority’s stonewalling of any action to raise the federal minimum wage could cost the party control of Congress.
New polling shows that close to 70 percent of voters in key swing states want an increase in the federal minimum wage—and that 60 percent or more support a $15 minimum wage in six of the seven states polled.
Even more, the polling shows that candidates’ positions on raising pay could play a pivotal role in this year’s electoral battles for control of the U.S. Senate. The results show that the incumbent Republican U.S. senators locked in close races could lose critical support—and even their seats—over opposition to raising wages for working people.
In Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and New Hampshire, Democratic challengers Katie McGinty, Russ Feingold and Governor Maggie Hassan strengthened their leads over incumbent Republican Senators Pat Toomey, Ron Johnson and Kelly Ayotte when voters were made aware of the senators’ opposition to raising the minimum wage.
And in Arizona, Missouri and North Carolina, Democratic challengers Representative Ann Kirkpatrick, Jason Kander and Deborah Ross pulled ahead of Senators John McCain, Roy Blunt and Richard Burr, flipping those contests on their heads, when voters learned of the senators’ track records opposing raises.
For example, in Arizona—where John McCain has just emerged from his toughest re-election primary ever—a 43-43 tie turns into a 44-38 lead for Kirkpatrick once voters hear about McCain’s opposition to raising pay.
The polling comes as the National Employment Law Project Action Fund, the Center for Popular Democracy Action, the Working Families Organization and other grassroots groups in seven states begin to mobilize voters.
The coalition plans to engage in canvassing, hold candidate forums and wage debate protests, among other actions, to educate and energize voters around candidates’ positions on the raising the minimum wage.
While Donald Trump, who has been all over the map on the minimum wage, has announced he now supports an increase to $10, most Republicans in Congress remain opposed.
Leading Republican pollster Frank Luntz’s firm LuntzGlobal has warned minimum wage opponents, “If you’re fighting against the minimum wage increase, you’re fighting an uphill battle, because most Americans, even most Republicans, are OK with raising the minimum wage.”
While Congress has refused to act, over the past three and a half years, more than 50 states, cities and counties, as well as individual companies, have stepped forward to approve minimum wage increases, delivering raises to 17 million workers.
And 10 million of those workers are in states or cities that have approved phased-in $15 minimum wages, raising pay for more than one in three workers in California and New York and beginning to reverse decades of growing pay inequality.
Historically, raising the minimum wage enjoyed the same bipartisan backing in Congressthat it does with voters. But over the past 20 years, increasing polarization in Washington and the growing role of money in politics have led many Republicans to abandon their support.
As a result, the federal minimum wage today remains frozen at just $7.25 an hour. And taxpayers are being forced to pick up the tab, as low-wage workers in the seven states just polled must rely on $150 billion per year in public assistance to make up for their inadequate paychecks.
Candidates’ positions on the minimum wage have made a difference in close U.S. senate races before. Ten years ago, in Missouri and Montana, Democrats Claire McCaskill and Jon Testersuccessfully used their support for a higher minimum wage to highlight the difference between them and their opponents, Republican Senators Jim Talent and Conrad Burns, who both opposed raising the wage.
McCaskill and Tester rode the issue to an Election Day victory, helping to break a logjam in Congress and delivering the first federal minimum wage increase in 10 years in 2007.
With the public demanding action to boost pay, the Republican majority and individual candidates this fall face a clear choice: stop standing in the way of a long overdue federal minimum wage increase—or risk their political future.
Paul Sonn is general counsel and program director of the National Employment Law Project Action Fund. This column was originally published at Newsweek.
For Release: Thursday, September 1, 2016
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New BATTLEGROUND POLL: Control of Senate Could Hinge on Candidates’ positions on Minimum Wage
Voters in 7 states Overwhelmingly support raising minimum wage – and incumbents who oppose it pay a big penalty
Washington, DC – New polling shows voters in key swing states overwhelmingly support increasing the federal minimum wage and that candidates’ positions on raising pay could play a pivotal role in this year’s fight for control of the U.S. Senate. The results show incumbent Republican U.S. senators locked in close races could lose critical support – and even their seats – over opposition to raising wages for working people.
The polls were conducted Friday through Monday by Public Policy Polling in seven states with competitive Senate races – Arizona, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. In each of the seven states, voters are less likely to support their incumbent Republican senators when informed of their votes against raising the federal minimum wage above $7.25 per hour.
In Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and New Hampshire, Democratic challengers strengthen their lead when voters were made aware of the Republican senator’s voting record on the minimum wage. And in Arizona, Missouri and North Carolina Democratic challengers actually pull ahead, flipping the contests on their heads.
“The findings of the polls are clear: swing state voters in this election are looking for candidates who will stand with them in supporting a strong minimum wage increase. Elected officials who oppose raising the minimum wage do so at their political peril,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project Action Fund.
In each state, at least 67% of voters support raising the federal minimum wage above its current level of $7.25 per hour, including 74% of voters in Pennsylvania and 72% of voters in North Carolina. At least 57% of voters back an increase to $15 per hour, including 63% in both Wisconsin and New Hampshire.
“Voters are fed up with lack of action in Washington on raising wages for working people, and what we’re seeing is that just letting voters know where the candidates stand on these issues can have a significant impact,” said Dan Cantor, executive director of Working Families.
The poll was commissioned by the NELP Action Fund, which that conducts research and advocates on issues that affect low-wage and unemployed workers. NELP Action, which is a project of The Advocacy Fund, is partnering with the Center for Popular Democracy Action Fund, Working Families and dozens of grassroots groups in the seven states on a campaign to mobilize voters around the minimum wage in the 2016 election. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the coalition plans to engage in canvassing, hold candidate forums, and wage debate protests, among other actions, to energize voters around candidates’ positions on the raising the minimum wage.
Over the past three and a half years, more than 50 states, cities and counties have passed minimum wage increases via legislation or ballot initiative. Nearly 20 million workers have seen wage increases, and 10 million of those workers are on the path to a $15 wage. But the federal minimum wage remains at just $7.25 due to gridlock and obstructionism in Washington. More than 10 million workers across the seven states polled are paid less than $15 per hour, including more than 7 million who are paid less than $12 per hour. Low wages force taxpayers in these states to pick up $25 billion per year in public assistance to working families, according to the UC Berkley Center for Labor Research and Education.
“Voters deserve elected leaders who share their values and will stand with them on bedrock issues like good jobs and fair wages,” said JoEllen Chernow, Director of Economic Justice at the Center for Popular Democracy Action Fund. “Over the next two months we’ll be letting voters know where the candidates are on giving America the raise it needs.”
The PPP poll is the latest in a body of research that shows growing support for raising wages in America. In January 2015, Hart Research Associates found that 75% of Americans support increasing the federal minimum wage to $12.50, while 63% of Americans support raising the wage to $15. A poll of underpaid workers by Harris Interactive and Yougov last year showed among registered voters paid less than $15, 65% are more likely to vote in the upcoming election if a candidate supports $15 and a union for all workers.
READ THE POLLS.
by Mitchell Hirsch, NELP Action Fund
A coalition of progressive advocacy groups has launched a campaign to make boosting workers’ pay a pivotal issue in the 2016 elections. Looking to leverage strong public support for minimum wage increases, the effort will spotlight candidates’ positions on substantially raising the federal minimum wage and protecting a major expansion of overtime pay coverage.
With control of the U.S. Senate in the balance this election year, the groups are targeting Senate contests in at least seven battleground states where Republicans who have blocked minimum wage increases, and whose party leaders in the Senate threaten to roll back overtime pay guarantees for millions of workers, are seeking reelection.
Led by the National Employment Law Project Action Fund, the Center for Popular Democracy Action Fund, and the Working Families Organization, the campaign intends to make raising wages a decisive issue in several key Senate races, working with grassroots groups in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, Missouri, Arizona, and New Hampshire.
7 battleground states where coalition of progressive advocacy groups are challenging incumbent Republican Senators on issues of raising workers’ pay.
The effort received national attention over the weekend with a report in the Wall Street Journal.
“There’s unprecedented momentum this year for raising the minimum wage. Voters are hungry for leaders who’ll take a strong stand in raising wages and frustrated with their Republican majorities in Congress,” said Paul Sonn, a spokesperson for the National Employment Law Project Action Fund.
While the focus is on Senate races, “partners in this effort are educating voters on where candidates for office from president down to city councilperson stand on raising wages,” said Mr. Sonn, who added that Hillary Clinton is a strong supporter of raising the federal minimum wage while Donald Trump “has been all over the map.”
With control of the Senate hanging in the balance after Republicans won the majority in 2014, the groups are betting minimum wage could be a pivotal issue in key races in Pennsylvania, Missouri, Wisconsin, Ohio, Arizona, New Hampshire, and North Carolina.
. . . .
Republicans are defending 24 Senate seats this November, while Democrats are defending 10. Democrats need to win at least five net seats to gain back control from Republicans, or four if Hillary Clinton wins the White House and Tim Kaine is elected vice president and can break tied Senate votes.
Some of the lawmakers the groups plan to target because of the lack of support they’ve shown for higher minimum wages are Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, who is in a contest against Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, and Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt, challenged by Democrat Jason Kander.
In Pennsylvania, GOP Sen. Pat Toomey could feel some heat from the groups in his race against Democrat Katie McGinty, who has repeatedly called for raising the federal minimum wage. And in Wisconsin, they will target Republican Sen. Ron Johnson in his contest with Democrat Russ Feingold, who has made raising the minimum wage a pivotal part of his campaign.
Marina Dimitrijevic, the state director of the Wisconsin Working Families Party, one of the grassroots groups involved, said the organization plans to bring a crowd to a mid-October debate between Sen. Johnson and Mr. Feingold. It will also invite Mr. Johnson to a roundtable discussion about raising minimum wages.
“I hope he comes and listens,” she said.
The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, and leading Democrats in Congress have gained no traction on bills to increase it. Pay floors have been rising in cities and states instead to as high as $15 an hour.
Of the 24 Republican-held Senate seats that are up in the 2016 election, 22 of them are held by incumbents seeking reelection. They include all seven of the Republican incumbents in races targeted by groups pressing for a higher federal wage floor. All seven of those incumbent senators voted to block a federal minimum wage increase from $7.25 to $10.10 in 2014, and have stood by Senate Republican leaders’ refusal to consider any legislation to raise the federal wage floor ever since.
Sixteen Republican-held Senate seats up in this election are in states that are among the 21 states stuck at the $7.25 federal minimum wage, including fourteen where Republican incumbents are running for reelection. Another seven states with only slightly higher state minimum wages have Republican incumbents seeking reelection.
In the 24 states with Republican-held Senate seats up in this election, 27 million workers are paid less than $15 per hour, including nearly 20 million who are paid less than $12 an hour. In the seven states targeted for the workers’ wages issue focus, more than 10 million workers earn less than $15 per hour, including more than 7 million who are paid less than $12 an hour.
The seven states selected by the groups for the campaign’s election cycle focus are among those considered the most competitive Senate races. Their outcomes will likely decide who holds the Senate majority in the next Congress.
Arizona: Sen. John McCain (R) vs. Ann Kirkpatrick (D)
Missouri: Sen. Roy Blunt (R) vs. Jason Kander (D)
New Hampshire: Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) vs. Maggie Hassan (D)
North Carolina: Sen. Richard Burr (R) vs. Deborah Ross (D)
Ohio: Sen. Rob Portman (R) vs. Ted Strickland (D)
Pennsylvania: Sen. Pat Toomey (R) vs. Katie McGinty (D)
Wisconsin: Sen. Ron Johnson (R) vs. Russ Feingold (D)
As Labor Day approaches, marking the start in earnest of campaign season, the groups plan to drive a media narrative on the potentially game-changing impact of raising workers’ pay as a pivotal election issue.
After stating at least a half dozen different positions on the minimum wage in recent months, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump yesterday said he supports raising the federal minimum wage to “at least $10.” Since then, other prominent Republicans, including Congressional Republicans seeking reelection, have been running for cover trying to duck the issue. By their past votes and statements, they’ve all opposed raising the poverty-level federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
The Republican platform states: “The minimum wage is an issue that should be handled at the state and local level.” Not even a mention of the federal minimum wage. And total hypocrisy, because Republicans have almost universally opposed state and local minimum wage increases.
Democrats, meanwhile, have adopted a platform calling for a $15 federal minimum wage.
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Statement of Christine Owens, Executive Director, NELP Action Fund:
For today at least, Donald Trump, bowing to the overwhelming support for raising the federal minimum wage, has called for raising the federal minimum wage to $10 per hour. With New York, California and D.C. already moving toward a $15 minimum wage and many others already on their way to well over $10, however, this proposal is woefully inadequate, not just in terms of the amount but also in terms of Mr. Trump’s grasp of the moment we are in.
The Fight for $15 has galvanized low-wage workers across the country to fight for the kinds of wages that provide them a real chance at economic stability, not just what politicians deign to award them. Mr. Trump may see himself as champion of workers struggling to get by, but calling for a $10 federal minimum wage when workers across the country are striking and fighting for $15 is exactly the sort of noblesse oblige that we as a country need to leave behind if we really want to build an economy that works for everyone.