Poll: More Americans on both sides of the political spectrum want a higher minimum wage

The support for raising the federal minimum wage is higher than it was before the coronavirus pandemic took hold.

  • Sam Dunklau

WITF’s Sam Dunklau produced this story as part of the America Amplified initiative using community engagement to inform and strengthen local, regional and national journalism. WITF and StateImpact Pennsylvania are part of America Amplified, a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. 

(Harrisburg) — The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the challenges facing essential workers, who at times have struggled to make ends meet on minimum wage salaries.

But a new survey out this week shows more Americans support raising the federal minimum wage than they did before the pandemic took hold.

Seven out of 10 people said they’d support that, and that support has grown since the pandemic began, mostly among Republicans.

Before COVID-19 hit, 48 percent of people who identify as Republicans said they wanted a higher minimum wage. Now nearly 62 percent of GOP supporters said that’s a good idea.

Public Agenda/USA Today/Ipsos

The Ipsos poll conducted between August 28-31, 2020 on behalf of Public Agenda and USA Today. The poll has a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points for all respondents.

That’s just one of several takeaways from the Public Agenda, USA Today and Ipsos Hidden Common Ground survey, which showed broad bipartisan understanding of a range of economic issues.

More than 1,100 people who participated in the study gave their thoughts about “economic opportunity and inequality.” They considered statements like “It’s okay for wealthy people to get wealthier as long as everyone else also has a good chance to succeed.”


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Andrea Evans of Elk Grove Village, Illinois, said as a Republican supporter, she agrees with that idea.

“I don’t think they should be penalized from additional gain as long as people who are not wealthy in the beginning have the same opportunity,” Evans said.

Participants also weighed in on ideas to help even things out, like whether the government should do more to lift people out of poverty.

Nova Powell, a Democrat who lives in Pettibone Texas, said his neighbors could really use that help, especially since the pandemic has stretched everyone thin.

“Around us, there are people that are barely getting by,” Powell said. “The reason they’re getting by is what little government aid that still comes in Social Security and so forth.”

When James Barge of Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, was asked what the country should do to make the economy work for more people, he said it sorely needs to help small businesses get ahead. Bigger businesses, Barge said, have more advantages, even when it comes to surviving through a pandemic.

“Big business found a way to get their fingers in the [Paycheck Protection Program] money that was supposed to go to small business, and a lot of them took it and didn’t give it back,” Barge said.

David Schleifer, the director of research at the non-partisan group Public Agenda, helped spearhead the survey.

He said in other recent polls on issues like immigration, there’s real disagreement and even misinformation around those topics.

But those differences seemed to fade when it came to economic issues.

“We really found this tremendous degree of agreement across party lines on just about everything that we asked about in the survey,” Schleifer said.

A majority of the Republicans, Democrats and Independents surveyed agreed the country needs to, for example, improve its infrastructure and re-train adult workers in non-sustainable industries for jobs in fields like tech.

Public Agenda/USA Today/Ipsos

The Ipsos poll conducted between August 28-31, 2020 on behalf of Public Agenda and USA Today. The poll has a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points for all respondents.

And support for a higher federal minimum wage was clear — among both Democrats and Republicans.

Donna Stump of Camp Hill, Pennsylvania is one of those Republicans.

“I’ve been there! I’ve worked for minimum wage, and I know how hard it is to make it in this world when you’re making minimum wage,” she said.

Stump said she’s seen the cost of goods skyrocket in her lifetime, and wages haven’t kept up.

Hope Pesner, who lives in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, said she can’t reveal her party affiliation because of her employer. For her, the inequality that’s resulted from a low minimum wage is pretty cut and dried:

“Certain things just seem wrong to me,” Pesner said. “You know, people getting paid $7.25 an hour or $7.50 an hour or whatever the minimum wage is now is just ridiculous, when there are people making $200 dollars an hour consulting.”

One Republican, David Garrett of Naugatuck, Connecticut, has a more nuanced view: Small businesses have to be able to shoulder any pay increase.

“We should probably raise the minimum wage to try to get people up to a standard of living,” Garrett said. “But, [there] has to be a balance as to how much that raise is going to be.”

Electronics worker Bud Jamison’s view is more straightforward. He said raising the minimum wage is more urgent now for the workers he sees struggling in his hometown of San Diego, California.

“Especially now, with COVID causing so many people to lose their jobs in the first place, they have absolutely no savings, I think it’s even more critical,” Jamison said.

You can’t really tell from the poll what effect the pandemic has had on how people feel about a higher minimum wage. But researcher Schleifer said there may just be more understanding.

“Maybe there is a sense that minimum wage jobs should provide a living wage for people, and maybe there’s a growing awareness of just how financially vulnerable people who are working minimum wage jobs are,” Schleifer said.

Congress has looked at raising the federal minimum wage recently but — no surprise — hasn’t followed through. An effort passed by the House last year is awaiting Senate action.

But as the poll results indicate, more and more Americans say something needs to be done to make the economy more fair.

 

Public Agenda/USA Today/Ipsos

The Ipsos poll conducted between August 28-31, 2020 on behalf of Public Agenda and USA Today. The poll has a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points for all respondents.

Behind This Story 

WITF’s Sam Dunklau produced this story as part of the America Amplified initiative using community engagement to inform and strengthen local, regional and national journalism. America Amplified is a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. 

Sam reported on a nationwide survey that polled people on their feelings about the economy to explore what measurable agreement Americans have on those topics.

Q: What did the people you talked to say about the experience of being interviewed for public radio?

Most people enjoyed the experience! Some even asked where the story would air, and I’ve promised to send each of them a link to it once it’s up.

This story involved a lot of cold phone calls to survey participants all over the country. Once I explained who I was and why I was calling, most people remembered taking the survey and were only so happy to give more in-depth thoughts as to why they answered the questions a certain way. 

Q: What surprised you about this type of community engagement?

I was surprised by the number of people who actually picked up the phone to chat with me. So many people are used to getting robo-calls nowadays they’ll ignore a number they haven’t seen before, especially one from as far afield as where I’m reporting in Central Pennsylvania. 

I was also surprised at how candid and willing the callers were to share their thoughts on the economy. Most people’s responses were rooted in personal experiences at jobs or with family members or neighbors struggling to make ends meet. I was able to pretty easily verify the survey’s results: most people, no matter their party, feel largely the same way about the American economy and what government can be doing to make it work for more people.

That being said, there is some disagreement over how to approach taxing the wealthy and the concept of hard work bearing reward. But most people at least have an understanding of the economic situation of others.

Q: What lessons do you have for others who want to do the same?

Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone! Have a script somewhat worked out in your head and have a list of questions ready to fire off once someone answers. Be ready to pivot if they want to talk about something more personal, and be ready to dig more deeply if they express an opinion you haven’t heard yet. 

If media folks like us want to do a better job at telling the stories of our communities, any practice we can get at talking to people who aren’t paid to be on camera will make all the difference.

Public Agenda/USA Today/Ipsos

The Ipsos poll conducted between August 28-31, 2020 on behalf of Public Agenda and USA Today. The poll has a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points for all respondents.

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