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66 Percent Favor Obama’s Minimum Wage Increase, but 56 Percent Oppose if it Raises Unemployment

The latest Reason-Rupe poll finds two-thirds of Americans favor President Obama’s proposal to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $9.00 an hour. However, support plummets to 37 percent if raising the minimum wage causes employers to lay off workers.

If raising the minimum wage were to increase unemployment, 56 percent of Americans oppose the proposal. Americans favor raising the minimum wage as a benefits-only proposition. However, they oppose the president’s proposal if it hurts jobs and the economy.

Ultimately, support for raising the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour hinges on whether doing so will significantly impact unemployment and the number of jobs. But Americans are unclear about what to expect. Understandably so since, as Brian Doherty explains, the empirical findings are mixed.

Forty-two percent say raising the minimum wage will reduce the number of jobs and 42 percent believe it will have no impact on hiring decisions. Thirteen percent anticipate it will increase jobs.

Americans’ underlying assumptions about the impact of raising the minimum wage on employment largely determines their support for the President’s proposal.

Among Americans who think increasing the minimum wage will have no impact on the number of jobs, 86 percent favor raising it. In stark contrast, among those who expect doing so will reduce the number of jobs, 58 percent oppose raising the minimum wage.

The Pivotal Group

Forty-percent of Americans who originally favored the president’s proposal would change their minds if raising the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour caused employers to lay off workers. This pivotal group, amounting to a quarter of all Americans, determines whether a majority supports or opposes raising the minimum wage.

This group tends to approve of President Obama’s job performance, is disproportionately female, and is primarily comprised of Independents and Democrats. Latinos are also more likely to be part of this pivotal group than are other racial/ethnic groups.

Demographics

Republicans oppose raising the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour by a margin of 58 to 39, Democrats favor it 88 to 10 as do Independents 62 to 35. However, if doing so caused businesses to lay off workers, Independents' support drops to 36 percent and 57 percent oppose. A majority of Democrats would favor raising the minimum wage even if it caused employers to lay off workers.

Strong majorities of all racial and ethnic groups favor raising the minimum wage. However, whites and Latinos oppose upwards of 60 percent if doing so raised unemployment, while a majority of African-Americans would continue to support the proposal.

Assumptions about the impact of the president’s proposal vary by partisanship. Sixty-three percent of Republicans believe it would reduce the number of jobs, while 55 percent of Democrats say it would have no impact. Independents are divided, with slight more agreeing with Republicans over Democrats (46 to 35).

Although young people are similar to most Americans in supporting the president's plan, their support shifts dramatically if it were to increase unemployment (63 percent would oppose). When asked to consider if increasing the minimum wage would have an impact on jobs, 57 percent say it would reduce the number of jobs.

The Messenger

In sum, Americans will favor raising the minimum wage if they are convinced it's a benefits-only proposition. However, if a majority is convinced it will reduce jobs and raise unemployment they will oppose the proposal. What Americans believe is largely determined by which messenger they find more credible. Currently, President Obama has been a more effective messenger than have the Republicans.

Until Republicans can effectively convince Americans that their party did not cause the 2008 financial crisis and sluggish economy, Americans may be taking their cues on economic theory from the president.  

(Please see Gabriel Lenz’ Follow the Leader for a compelling case explaining how citizens adopt the policy views of their preferred political leaders.)

Nationwide telephone poll conducted February 21-25 2013 interviewed 1002 adults on both mobile (502) and landline (500) phones, with a margin of error +/- 3.8%. Columns may not add up to 100% due to rounding. Full poll results found hereFull methodology can be found here

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