City Hall

Wednesday Jolt: Poll Shows Strong Support for $15 Minimum Wage

Sixty-eight percent of Seattle voters say they support raising the minimum wage to $15.

By Afternoon Jolt February 12, 2014

Afternoon Jolt

A new poll conducted by EMC Research found that Seattle voters supported raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour by a margin of 68 to 25 percent. (Seattle's minimum wage currently matches the state's $9.32 hourly minimum.)

The poll showed support for raising the wage to $15 in neighborhoods (loosely defined by the new council districts) across the city, with the highest support in U District/Wallingford/Ravenna area, at 76 percent and the lowest in West Seattle at 58 percent. Republicans were the only subgroup that didn't support the idea, with only 25 percent saying they were for it. Self-identified "independents" supported a $15 minimum wage by a margin of 57 percent.

After being hit with a series of pro and con statements (framed as agree or disagree questions) such as "A higher minimum wage helps local businesses because more workers making more means they will have money to spend" (71 percent agreed) or "Increasing the minimum wage to $15 will hurt consumers, will lead to price increases on food and a wide range of other products people can't avoid buying" (only 45 percent agree), support for the measure increased slightly—to 69 percent.

EMC pollster Andrew Thibault says the statements were intending to change people's opinions as much as they were intended to gauge the "values landscape," which says has changed. You can no longer, Thibault says, decrease support with "how does this affect me?" ideas like "higher prices" (only 45 precent agreed).

Thibault says the broader frame of income equality has given the issue a "moral" dimension and turned wage issues into a question of "us" rather than "me." He notes that 79 percent of people in his poll agreed with the statement: "Increasing the minimum wage is the right thing to do."

Support for a $15 minimum wage that comes with asterisks, such as exempting non-profits, only requiring bigger companies to pay, or letting employers count other forms of payment such as retirement contributions, bonuses, and profit sharing, drops below 50 percent. (Oddly, EMC didn't test the notion of health care coverage as part of the $15, something small businesses have brought up.) Only 42 percent supported allowing restaurant owners to count tips toward the minimum wage, a controversial idea known as "tip credit."

The only caveat that didn't drop support below 50 percent was helping small businesses by giving them a tax break.

The strong support raises two questions: Why go ahead with a nit-picky process on this, especially with opponents like business at the table, and not just pass a straight up $15 minimum wage ... now?

And second: Don't these numbers give socialist council member Kshama Sawant, who made the $15 minimum her primary campaign issue, super-powered leverage to go over Mayor Murray's head, bail on his task force, and run an initiative?

"It's important to go through the process and make sure this withstands ... the fact finding."—Dave FreibothKing County Labor Council Executive Secretary Dave Freiboth, who's on Mayor Ed Murray's minimum wage task force (with Sawant), says, "we've got a winner here, we're going to raise the minimum wage, and we could roll over business, but it's important to go through the process and make sure this withstands the process of fact finding." For example, Freiboth says he's not concerned with McDonald's profit margins, but he does want to find out if there is a problem for small business.

In the end, he argues, it's improtant to include business in the discussions.

We have a call out to Sawant, but Freiboth, who has met with Sawant individually several times, says he doesn't think she'll bail.

"I think she'll pull the trigger if she thinks she's getting rolled and the process has been compromised, but I think she understands that she's working with elected labor leaders who represent workers, and she respects our process." (Freiboth notes that he represented Sawant in her union; before she was elected, Sawant was an instructor at Seattle Central Community College. "She's one of mine. I work for her," he says.) "She's attuned to our process—that we talk to business, and she respects that. She's more sophisticated than people give her credit [for]."

Ultimately, Freiboth says the polling results were "gratifying" because, he says, "there's a recognition that the economy is broken and trickle-down isn't working and the market economy is leaving people behind."

He adds, though, that there was also "something sad" about the polling numbers because they confirmed the reality of an "economy of division ... of have and have nots."

"It's sad that we've come to this," he says.

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