How Putting Minimum Wage Increases on the Ballot Increases Progressive Voter Turnout

Congressional Republicans have already vowed to obstruct President Obama’s popular call to raise the minimum wage.

But if Republicans in Congress stop a wage hike at the federal level, they may be welcoming a barrage of minimum wage ballot initiatives that not only would allow states to forge ahead on their own, but also would increase voter turnout that could prove politically disastrous for the Republican Party.

Here’s a few examples showing why. In 1998, the state of Washington had a minimum wage ballot initiative that overwhelmingly passed. It received more votes than any other initiative or candidate on the ballot, outpacing even the vote total of Democrat Sen. Patty Murray. Polling showed that “when people found out that the minimum wage initiative was on the ballot, the turnout of voters increased by 4 percent. This was even more pronounced among voters with poor voting histories, who accounted for 52 percent of the drop-off voters who were moved by this issue.” Many attributed the fact that Democrats won 50 percent of the House contests and narrowly won the Senate back to the minimum wage ballot initiative.

In Missouri, Lake Research Partners found that a 2006 ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage made Democratic voters “twice as likely” to vote for Democrat Claire McCaskill over Republican Jim Talent.

The Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, which mobilizes for progressive ballot initiatives, provided us a summary of research that they’ve done on the turnout effects related to wage initiatives. In addition to the statistic on Washington state, here are their major findings:

  • Turnout is consistently higher in initiative than non-initiative states, 7-9 percent higher in mid-term elections.
  • In 2004 in Nevada, 24 percent of all voters were motivated by the minimum wage ballot question, including 34 percent of Democratic voters, 35 percent of independents, 35 percent of low income voters, 33 percent of Democratic state legislative voters, and 32 percent of less educated voters.
  • In 2004 in Florida, 19 percent of all voters were motivated by the minimum wage ballot question, including 28 percent of Democratic voters, 2/3 of previously non-voting African-Americans, 26 percent of younger women, and 29 percent of less educated voters.

“We know that intentional, targeted, proactive ballot measures can increase turnout among key voters, especially in off-year elections,” said The Ballot Initiative Strategy Center executive director Justine Sarver in a statement. The question for progressives heading into 2014 is: Which issues will really resonate with voters now and make a positive difference in their lives? Minimum wage? A fundamental right to vote? And what other issues resonate, and are meaningful to people, in addition to these?”

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