Waging state-level ballot campaigns to increase the minimum wage will be an important way to mobilize core Democratic constituencies in this fall's midterm elections, according to key party strategists.
The Democrats' theory is that the party's base voters will be more likely to turn out on Election Day if they can vote specifically on the minimum wage. The idea is that those voters, drawn to the polls by the minimum wage issue, would also cast ballots for Democratic candidates who support a minimum-wage hike.
In Washington, Senate Republicans have blocked a bill sponsored by Democrats and President Barack Obama to increase the minimum wage nationally from $7.25 per hour to $10.10. In February, Obama bypassed Congress and signed an executive order raising the minimum wage to $10.10 for federal contract employees.
Democrats argue that the country is on their side. "The majority of Americans think we should be raising the minimum wage – if you work full time in this country you shouldn't be living in poverty," President Obama told a fund-raising luncheon in La Jolla, California, on Thursday. In fact, a recent Bloomberg poll found that 69 percent of Americans support raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. A Quinnipiac poll found that by a two-to-one margin voters are more likely to support a candidate who backs raising the minimum wage instead of a candidate who doesn't. Support for a minimum wage increase may be especially important to key Democratic constituencies such as unmarried women, young people, African Americans and Hispanics.
Activists in at least eight states are planning to put minimum-wage issues on their ballots this November, including states with competitive Senate elections such Alaska and Arkansas.
A key part of the minimum wage strategy is to continue attacking Republicans who oppose increasing the minimum wage as insensitive, obstructionist and out of touch.
Overall, the economy remains the No. 1 issue for most Americans, says Democratic pollster Geoff Garin. "There's some recognition that things are getting better but still, a majority of Americans don't feel the improvements have reached them and their daily lives," Garin told me. Many Americans are "worried about their ability to keep up with the basic cost of things" and are living from "paycheck to paycheck," Garin says, and they believe that increasing the minimum wage would be a step toward helping those in need.
Yet persuading core Democrats to vote won't be easy. Many of them "don't feel that the midterm elections are going to have much impact on their economic fortune or misfortune," the Democratic pollster adds. Getting them to believe that the midterms can make a difference will be a key goal of the Democrats this year.