Feb 11, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Focus group: $15 minimum wage is a flop with swing voters

Illustration of balled up money being thrown in the trash.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Some swing voters have deep reservations about raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, worried that the impacts on employers or inflation may outweigh benefits to individual workers.

Why it matters: President Biden and most congressional Democrats support the increase and favor its inclusion in the next coronavirus stimulus. But Biden said last week it may face too much resistance to make it into this round. These voters who switched from Donald Trump in 2016 to Biden in 2020 help explain why.

This was the biggest takeaway from our latest Engagious/Schlesinger swing-voter focus groups on governance in the Biden era. Two panels of seven voters each were conducted on Feb. 9, hours after the start of the Senate trial for former President Trump's second impeachment.

  • A striking 13 out of 14 participants said $15 an hour is too high, favoring a rate between $9 and $12. The current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour was set in 2009.
  • While focus groups are not statistically significant samples like polls, the responses show how some voters in crucial states are thinking and talking about national priorities.

What they're saying: Dixie T. from Michigan insisted a $15 minimum wage would cause the cost of living to spike: "Everything is going to be more money — housing, food, you name it."

  • "It was part of a COVID bill; I'm not sure how it's directly related to this COVID issue," said Jim S. from Pennsylvania.
  • The lone voter who didn't think $15 per hour is too high instead argued it's too low. He believed the rate should be $20.

The big picture: These voters showed weak enthusiasm for the impeachment trial, even though a majority of the focus group wanted Trump to be banned from seeking office again.

  • Four participants said the trial is a waste of time. Three said it's unconstitutional because Trump is no longer president, despite historical and legal evidence to the contrary. Two participants said the trial will further divide the country.

Voters used words like "fear" and "dread" to describe how they would feel if Trump ran in 2024.

  • "The only way I'd vote for him is if he became saved and repented for all of his sins and apologized and actually had an agenda going forward," said John M. from Arizona, adding there's "zero" likelihood of that.

What we're watching: When it comes to passing COVID-19 stimulus, only five of the 14 swing voters favor Democrats bypassing the Senate's usual 60-vote threshold by using budget powers that allow a party-line vote. The other nine want to extend negotiations until some Republicans sign on.

  • Voters are "seeking unity from a president who promised it" and don't want Biden to "ram through" a $1.9 trillion package on a party-line vote, said Engagious president Rich Thau, who moderated the focus groups.
  • Anna W. from Georgia said if that "if we're pushing for unity ... then we need to come together and pass a bill together."
  • Danna W. from Arizona disagreed. "There’re other opportunities for them to come together, but this one is a deal-breaker — all of it needs to happen," she said.
  • Only five members of the group supported a proposed cash benefit for families with children. Some participants said they would like the plan more if the benefit came in one lump sum rather than monthly increments.
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