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Poll: 61% of likely voters support Democrats’ gradual minimum wage hike

But only 49 percent support passing the $15 minimum wage through budget reconciliation.

Demonstrators march in front of the Chicago McDonalds headquarters demanding a minimum wage of $15 per hour in 2019.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Raising the minimum wage is a widely popular idea, a new Data for Progress/Vox poll confirms, but the exact specifics of how it’s raised and by how much change that support.

In the poll, 57 percent of likely voters said they support raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $15 per hour. That support rises to 61 percent when the details of the Democrats’ Raise the Wage Act — gradually increasing the minimum wage to $15 by 2025 and then indexing it to median income — are included, and to 62 percent when voters were asked if they support the gradual increase being a provision of the broader pandemic relief bill.

But when asked if they support one party using a “non-standard” procedure — Democrats’ use of budget reconciliation, in this case, though the poll did not specify on either count — to pass the gradual minimum wage increase, support slipped. Forty-nine percent of respondents supported passing the $15 minimum wage through a partisan budget reconciliation process. That support drops to just 39 percent of independents and third-party voters, and 24 percent of Republicans, though 79 percent of Democratic voters gave their party the go-ahead.

Though 29 states and Washington, DC, either already have a higher minimum wage or have passed a wage bill that will go into effect this year, according to Paycor, the federal limit was last raised in 2009.

There are strong partisan divides over the minimum wage. While a large majority of Democrats and a smaller majority of independents support the $15 minimum wage, its gradual implementation, and its inclusion in the relief bill, Republicans mostly oppose the effort.

While 82 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of voters who identify as independent or third party are in support of gradually increasing and eventually indexing the $15 minimum wage, only 43 percent of Republicans support it. That number drops to 32 percent when asked if they support a $15 minimum wage straight-up. And 66 percent of Republicans believe a minimum wage increase would hurt the economy, compared to just 14 percent of Democrats.

There was a greater level of support, particularly among Republicans and independents, for a more gradual hike. Majorities of both groups — 59 percent of Republicans and 70 percent of independents — support an $11 minimum wage, the poll found.

Still, the relatively high levels of support overall indicate a mandate for Democrats to implement some wage hike at a minimum, and most likely a $15 minimum wage — something activists have been pressuring them to do and has proven popular even in red states such as Florida, where it was passed via ballot initiative.

Currently, the House of Representatives’ relief bill — which they will vote on this weekincludes a provision to gradually increase the minimum wage to $15 by 2025. While the bill is expected to pass the Democrat-controlled House, the minimum wage increase may become a sticking point in the 50-50 Senate, where Democrats cannot afford to lose a single vote and where there’s no guarantee it will clear unrelated procedural hurdles to be included in the bill.

The poll was fielded between February 19 and 22, among 1,527 likely voters. It has a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points.

The budget reconciliation process is more controversial than the $15 minimum wage itself

Assuming the relief bill passes through the House, the Senate will take it up for consideration. Through the budget reconciliation process, a certain number of bills that are budgetary in nature can be passed each year without the threat of filibuster, meaning they only need 51 votes instead of 60. With exactly 50 Senators in the Democratic caucus, plus tiebreaker Vice President Kamala Harris, all 50 would need to support the bill.

The $15 minimum wage is not even guaranteed to get past the Senate parliamentarian, who will make a ruling on whether the provision passes what is known as “the Byrd rule,” indicating it is budgetary in nature and can therefore be included in a reconciliation bill. There is no guarantee Democrats even clear this procedural hurdle — President Joe Biden said as much in an interview on CBS where he admitted the $15 minimum wage will likely not be included in the final bill due to the Byrd rule.

But as Vox’s Li Zhou explains, there are also political obstacles for the minimum wage provision.

With just 50 votes to work with to pass this bill, Democrats need every single member onboard in order to reach the simple majority threshold required for the budget measure. Already, however, statements by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) have thrown the likelihood of such consensus into doubt when it comes to the wage increase.

“I’m supportive of basically having something that’s responsible and reasonable,” Manchin told The Hill, while noting that he does not back a $15 minimum wage.

Manchin and Sinema have declared their strong opposition to overruling the Senate parliamentarian if she decides the minimum wage hike violates the Byrd Rule, and are both on the record saying they believe a $15 minimum wage is too high regardless.

The poll findings reflect the realities Manchin and Sinema — who come from red and purple states, respectively — face. Just 14 percent of Democrats oppose passing the wage hike through budget reconciliation with the support of only one party, but 54 percent of independents and third-party voters and 70 percent of Republicans are against the idea.

The minimum wage policy with the most bipartisan support was increasing it to $11 per hour, which may reflect the popularity of a gradual increase. Seventy-three percent of overall likely voters support that measure.

Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Mitt Romney (R-UT) introduced a bill to raise the minimum wage to $10 per hour — which the poll indicates might garner more support from their base than the $15 wage. But they tied it to policies targeting undocumented workers, likely making it a non-starter for Senate Democrats.

If Senate Democrats, as Biden suspects, are unable to include the $15 minimum wage in the relief belief for procedural or political reasons, they can then introduce the bill on its own. But while over 60 percent of likely voters, the poll found, support a gradual minimum wage increase to $15, the idea that 60 percent of Senators — 10 Republicans in addition to all the Democrats — would support the idea is, as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has said, seemingly impossible.