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Paid sick leave could be a deciding issue in November’s key House races

A new poll finds that the policy could sway independents and undecided voters in favor of Democrats.

A protester wearing a breathing mask holds a sign that reads, “If we work sick, you get sick #PPEnow.”
People protest against a paid sick leave policy in the Bronx, New York, on April 17.
David Dee Delgado/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

Paid sick leave has such strong support from voters that it could prompt some to vote Democrat over Republican in key House and Senate races this fall, according to a new poll.

The results of the survey, commissioned by Paid Leave for All Action, a group advocating in favor of such policies, suggest that voters would more likely favor the Democratic candidate in battleground House and Senate races if that person supported paid sick leave and the Republican candidate did not.

In 42 front-line House districts — districts that have been swing seats in the past — people identifying as undecided voters were more likely to choose the Democratic candidate by 14 points on the generic ballot, on average. When voters were informed about the Democrat’s support for paid sick leave for essential workers and the Republican’s opposition, undecided voters picked the Democrat by 48 points.

The survey, which was conducted between April 30 and May 4, found that paid sick leave has overwhelming voter support in general. The poll included 1,000 interviews with voters in 11 Senate battleground states and 1,004 separate interviews with voters in 42 front-line House districts. Its results have a 3.1 percent margin of error.

A candidate’s support for paid leave for essential workers could sway independent and undecided voters in their favor.
Paid Leave For All Action

The results of this poll echo a trend that’s been documented by other surveys in the past. According to a 2016 poll from Pew Research Center, 85 percent of people supported leave programs that enable workers to address health conditions.

The dearth of paid sick leave protections has become especially apparent during this pandemic. Just 12 states and Washington, DC, have enacted laws requiring companies to offer full-time workers paid sick leave, and employees in lower-wage jobs are the least likely to have access to such programs. There is currently no federal law that mandates paid sick leave for all workers.

“All of us that they say are essential are working the hourly jobs that don’t have the paid leave. Why is that?” asks Kris Garcia, a Colorado resident who currently works for an airline and a package-handling company, who helps advise Paid Leave for All Action.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act made some progress in addressing this gap, but it doesn’t apply to many workers. As part of the measure, which Congress passed in March, a segment of workers is guaranteed two weeks paid sick leave at their full salary if they need to be quarantined for coronavirus or are experiencing symptoms. Costs for the program are covered by the federal government and paid out to companies via a tax credit.

As Vox’s Anna North reported, however, millions of workers were excluded: The provisions in this law only applied to some public employers and private companies that had fewer than 500 employees. That means many employees still don’t have mandated protections — including workers at several larger corporations: According to an analysis by New America, companies including Applebees, Dunkin’, and Kmart have not put out public statements about paid sick leave options in response to the pandemic.

Democrats sought to close these loopholes in the Heroes Act, their latest stimulus proposal, though this measure is not expected to gain any traction in the Republican-controlled Senate. As a result, thousands of essential workers are forced to continue to show up at their jobs with no guarantee of paid leave were they to fall ill.

“There are restaurant workers, there are people who work for fortune 500s who don’t have a paid sick day, there’s home health workers,” says Paid Leave for All Action Director Dawn Huckelbridge. “If we’re not giving people these protections, we’re going to be forcing them to choose between their life and their livelihoods.”

The poll finds that paid sick leave is a top issue for voters

Offering paid sick days is a policy with broad support. When given a slate of potential relief measures that lawmakers could implement in response to the coronavirus, voters overwhelmingly backed paid sick days.

Paid sick day policies have the support of an overwhelming number of voters.
Paid Leave For All Action

Ninety-four percent of voters in Senate battleground states backed this policy, compared to 80 percent who supported an extension for unemployment insurance programs, for example.

Democrats that support paid sick days are also more likely to garner voter support overall. When initially polled, 46 percent of voters in battleground Senate states and 49 percent of those in front-line House districts said they were leaning toward the Democratic candidate, versus 46 percent and 44 percent who were leaning Republican, respectively.

After voters were told that the Democratic candidate supported paid leave, particularly for essential workers, and the Republican candidate did not, 66 percent of voters backed the Democrat for Senate and 65 percent backed the Democrat for a House seat, compared to 34 and 35 percent who said they’d vote for the Republican.

This shift is apparent among both independent and undecided voters as well. Their margin of support for the Democratic House candidate went up by 36 and 34 points when the differences in policy positions were raised. And their margin of support for the Democratic Senate candidate went up by 46 and 32 points.

Historically, the implementation of paid leave programs has faced Republican opposition due to concerns about the additional taxes needed to pay for them and the potential burden they could pose to businesses. As the pandemic has further emphasized, however, the adoption of such programs isn’t just critical for economic stimulus, it’s a public health imperative.

Ultimately, the findings of the poll strongly suggest that paid sick leave is an important issue for many voters, and could be a critical one for electoral success in November.