Americans Will Only Support Obama's Minimum Wage Increase If It Doesn't Harm Jobs


In tonight's State of the Union Address, President Obama will make his case for requiring businesses to increase how much they pay minimum wage workers from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour while indexing future increases to inflation. He will also announce plans to use an executive order to mandate federal contractors for new government contracts pay their minimum wage workers at least $10.10 per hour.

Public opinion polls indicate that such a proposal at first glance will be popular among the general public. For instance, a Reason-Rupe poll found72 percent of Americans favor raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10, while 26 percent are opposed. Support also appears to transcend partisanship, with majorities of Republicans (53 percent) as well as independents (72 percent) and Democrats (87 percent) in favor.

However, once Americans consider costs, support for a minimum wage plummets. If raising the minimum wage were to cause some employers to lay-off or hire fewer workers, 57 percent of Americans would oppose a minimum wage hike and 38 percent would favor.

Additionally, if a minimum wage increase were to harm jobs, Democrats would swing 38 points, such that half would then oppose a wage hike. Likewise majorities of independents (53 percent) and Republicans (68 percent) would oppose raising the wage floor.

In both scenarios, the fact that Republicans are more likely to oppose raising the minimum wage is partly driven by their belief that doing so would harm employment. Indeed, a majority (54 percent) of Republicans believe raising the minimum wage would reduce jobs; however, this is a view only shared by 39 percent of Americans overall. Instead 69 percent of Democrats and 56 percent of independents believe Congress can raise the minimum wage with no adverse effects on employment.

While most Americans support a higher minimum wage, a majority also don't believe workers should expect minimum wage jobs to be long-term positions. Instead, 61 percent view minimum wage jobs as stepping-stones to help lower skilled or younger workers gain skills. (It's relevant to note here that some economists have found minimum wage increases actually disincentivize higher education and training). In contrast, a quarter primarily view minimum wage jobs as long-term positions for established workers to support their families.

Partisans also split on this issue, with majorities of Republicans (77 percent) and independents (56 percent) viewing minimum wage jobs as stepping-stones compared to 50 percent of Democrats.

Public attitudes on raising the minimum wage correlates highly with whether Americans accept the premise that government should set a minimum wage in the first place: 73 percent say government should set a minimum wage and 24 percent oppose, nearly identical to the shares supporting a wage increase. Partisan breakdowns are also statistically identical to preferences to raise the minimum wage. This suggests that if Americans accept the initial argument that government should play a role in setting wage floors, then there will be little opposition to raising the floor higher.

Nevertheless, if Americans become convinced that raising the minimum wage will harm employment, they will push back on the initial premise and the proposal to raise the wage.

Read more about Reason-Rupe findings on the minimum wage here.

Nationwide telephone poll conducted Dec 4-8 2013 interviewed 1011 adults on both mobile (506) and landline (505) phones, with a margin of error +/- 3.7%. Princeton Survey Research Associates International executed the nationwide Reason-Rupe survey. Columns may not add up to 100% due to rounding. Full poll results, detailed tables, and methodology found here. Sign up for notifications of new releases of the Reason-Rupe poll here.