Can Minimum Wage Be Democrats’ 2014 Turnout Trick?

Supporters see it as good policy, but it’s also just good politics.

UNITED STATES - APRIL 25: Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., prepares to speak at a Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee's "Rural Summit," on issues such as housing, rural development, agriculture, education and conservation in the Dirksen Senate Office building. 
CQ-Roll Call,Inc.
Alex Seitz-Wald
See more stories about...
Alex Seitz-Wald
Feb. 27, 2014, 4 p.m.

Be­fore Demo­crats spent a single dol­lar or sent out one press re­lease in 2014, they star­ted at a dis­ad­vant­age — as they do in every midterm elec­tion — thanks to an­ti­cip­ated low turnout among young people and minor­it­ies who don’t have a pres­id­en­tial con­test to get ex­cited about. The party’s can­did­ates are try­ing to dull this built-in edge for the GOP with smarter tools and get-out-the-vote strategies, but in some states they may get a big­ger as­sist by rid­ing the coat­tails not of a party head­liner but an is­sue: ref­er­enda to in­crease the statewide min­im­um wage.

Ef­forts are un­der­way in at least eight states to put a min­im­um-wage hike be­fore voters in Novem­ber, ac­cord­ing to the pro­gress­ive Bal­lot Ini­ti­at­ive Strategy Cen­ter, in­clud­ing four states with com­pet­it­ive gov­ernor and Sen­ate elec­tions. In ad­di­tion to us­ing the is­sue to draw a con­trast with Re­pub­lic­ans, Demo­crats ex­pect that provid­ing people with an op­por­tun­ity to vote dir­ectly on the pop­u­lar meas­ure will help mo­bil­ize their base and pos­sibly provide the mar­gin­al boost that can make all the dif­fer­ence in a tight race.

“Min­im­um-wage bal­lot meas­ures are cer­tainly not a sil­ver bul­let but def­in­itely are help­ful in turn­ing out the vote,” said a Wash­ing­ton strategist in­volved in Sen­ate races. “And our biggest chal­lenge in this cycle is not the ACA or deal­ing with the Koch broth­ers, but turnout.” A strategist work­ing on gubernat­ori­al cam­paigns agreed: “It’ll be one part of why voters turn out; it’s not the only reas­on, but it will help.”

This isn’t a new tac­tic, but it is a suc­cess­ful one. Rais­ing the min­im­um wage is over­whelm­ing pop­u­lar, polls show, and it even gains sup­port from some lower-in­come, non-tea-party Re­pub­lic­ans. “It’s just about the most pop­u­lar eco­nom­ic policy there is,” said Paul Sonn of the Na­tion­al Em­ploy­ment Law Pro­ject. “There’s a lot of polling show­ing that it en­er­gizes low-in­come and drop-off voters.”

These bal­lot meas­ures have been cred­ited with help­ing push Demo­crats over the fin­ish line in close races in 2004 and 2006, and with help­ing the party keep con­trol of state le­gis­latures as well.

Per­haps the best ex­ample is Sen. Claire Mc­Caskill’s 2006 squeak­er over Re­pub­lic­an Jim Tal­ent in Mis­souri. She made the min­im­um wage a cent­ral is­sue of her cam­paign and helped provide the mo­mentum to put the is­sue on the bal­lot — and was re­war­ded by in­creased turnout in urb­an Demo­crat­ic areas of the state. In St. Louis County, for in­stance, Mc­Caskill bested Tal­ent by about 46,000 votes, a huge jump over 2002, the last midterm, when Demo­crat Jean Car­na­han edged Tal­ent by 15,000 votes. Afric­an-Amer­ic­an turnout was up 8 points over 2002 statewide, even as black turnout na­tion­ally in­creased only mar­gin­ally. “At the end of the day, it prob­ably helped her more than the much more bal­ly­hooed stem-cell ini­ti­at­ive,” polit­ic­al sci­ent­ist Mar­vin Overby of the Uni­versity of Mis­souri (Columbia) told the As­so­ci­ated Press a few days after the elec­tion.

That year, the min­im­um wage also ap­peared on the bal­lot in oth­er key states such as Ari­zona, Col­or­ado, Montana, Nevada, and Ohio. The ref­er­enda were a part of what one long­time Demo­crat­ic op­er­at­ive fa­mil­i­ar with the ef­fort called Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic Lead­er Harry Re­id’s “mas­ter plan” to flip the Sen­ate. The op­er­at­ive com­pared it to Re­pub­lic­an strategist Karl Rove’s use of state bal­lot meas­ures to ban gay mar­riage in 2004 as a means to boost so­cial-con­ser­vat­ive turnout.

The plan worked. The bal­lot meas­ures passed in every state (of­ten by huge mar­gins, such as Mis­souri’s 76 per­cent), Demo­crats took con­trol of Con­gress, and the next year raised the fed­er­al min­im­um wage.

This time, however, the party has no mas­ter plan. Ef­forts are mostly be­ing driv­en from the bot­tom up, with some help from na­tion­al groups, such as the AFL-CIO. “People are late com­ing to this but now see that this is a cru­cial is­sue for work­ing people,” said Mi­chael Pod­horzer, the polit­ic­al dir­ect­or of the labor fed­er­a­tion. “The work­ing-class vote is go­ing to be im­port­ant in the midterm, and this is an is­sue that really dif­fer­en­ti­ates the Demo­crats from the Re­pub­lic­ans.”

Pod­horzer cred­its a min­im­um-wage bal­lot meas­ure in New Jer­sey with help­ing to keep the Le­gis­lature blue des­pite a land­slide vic­tory for Re­pub­lic­an Gov. Chris Christie in last year’s elec­tion. Christie had ve­toed an in­crease in the min­im­um wage, and worked hard to get a Le­gis­lature that would be friend­li­er to his policies, but he was re­buffed on both counts in Novem­ber. “One of the re­mark­able things about the New Jer­sey elec­tion is that Christie won 61-39; min­im­um wage won 61-39,” Pod­horzer said.

Cer­tainly, there’s only so much be­ne­fit the bal­lot meas­ures can provide this year, with so few ref­er­enda on the dock­et. Plus, in Alaska, it prob­ably won’t help Demo­crat­ic Sen. Mark Be­gich in his tough reelec­tion bid be­cause the state is ask­ing voters to con­sider ref­er­enda on the primary, rather than gen­er­al-elec­tion, bal­lot.

Even so, strategists are ex­pect­ing mar­gin­al boosts in Michigan and Arkan­sas, which each have heated Sen­ate and gubernat­ori­al elec­tions, and in South Dakota, where a Sen­ate seat is in play. And even in states without com­pet­it­ive statewide races, like Cali­for­nia, House can­did­ates could gain.

Be­sides, the main pur­pose is to give people a raise, not to elect more Demo­crats, sup­port­ers say. “Our view is that first and fore­most this is good policy,” said Pod­horzer, “and that it just hap­pens to be good polit­ics as well.”

What We're Following See More »
TAKING A LONG VIEW TO SOUTHERN STATES
In Dropout Speech, Santorum Endorses Rubio
2 days ago
THE DETAILS

As expected after earlier reports on Wednesday, Rick Santorum ended his presidential bid. But less expected: he threw his support to Marco Rubio. After noting he spoke with Rubio the day before for an hour, he said, “Someone who has a real understanding of the threat of ISIS, real understanding of the threat of fundamentalist Islam, and has experience, one of the things I wanted was someone who has experience in this area, and that’s why we decided to support Marco Rubio.” It doesn’t figure to help Rubio much in New Hampshire, but the Santorum nod could pay dividends down the road in southern states.

Source:
‘PITTING PEOPLE AGAINST EACH OTHER’
Rubio, Trump Question Obama’s Mosque Visit
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

President Obama’s decision to visit a mosque in Baltimore today was never going to be completely uncontroversial. And Donald Trump and Marco Rubio proved it. “Maybe he feels comfortable there,” Trump told interviewer Greta van Susteren on Fox News. “There are a lot of places he can go, and he chose a mosque.” And in New Hampshire, Rubio said of Obama, “Always pitting people against each other. Always. Look at today – he gave a speech at a mosque. Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims.”

Source:
THE TIME IS NOW, TED
Cruz Must Max Out on Evangelical Support through Early March
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

For Ted Cruz, a strong showing in New Hampshire would be nice, but not necessary. That’s because evangelical voters only make up 21% of the Granite State’s population. “But from the February 20 South Carolina primary through March 15, there are nine states (South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and North Carolina) with an estimated white-Evangelical percentage of the GOP electorate over 60 percent, and another four (Texas, Kansas, Louisiana, and Missouri) that come in over 50 percent.” But after that, he better be in the catbird’s seat, because only four smaller states remain with evangelical voter majorities.

Source:
CHRISTIE, BUSH TRYING TO TAKE HIM DOWN
Rubio Now Winning the ‘Endorsement Primary’
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Since his strong third-place finish in Iowa, Marco Rubio has won endorsement by two sitting senators and two congressmen, putting him in the lead for the first time of FiveThirtyEight‘s Endorsement Tracker. “Some politicians had put early support behind Jeb Bush — he had led [their] list since August — but since January the only new endorsement he has received was from former presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham.” Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that fueled by resentment, “members of the Bush and Christie campaigns have communicated about their mutual desire to halt … Rubio’s rise in the polls.”

Source:
ARE YOU THE GATEKEEPER?
Sanders: Obama Is a Progressive
1 days ago
THE LATEST

“Do I think President Obama is a progressive? Yeah, I do,” said Bernie Sanders, in response to a direct question in tonight’s debate. “I think they’ve done a great job.” But Hillary Clinton wasn’t content to sit out the latest chapter in the great debate over the definition of progressivism. “In your definition, with you being the gatekeeper of progressivism, I don’t think anyone else fits that definition,” she told Sanders.

×