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If the Democrats have a problem, it's with the working class. Their support of voters without a university degree (especially white voters, but not exclusively) slip in recent years
The Republican Party, meanwhile, finds its own base more heavily focused than ever before on the white working class. These voters remain committed to former President Donald Trump, but are not much nostalgic for the pro-corporate version of the G.O.P. that predates him and so are many Republican leaders wish now they could return to.
Many Democrats are now eager to seize the opportunity and show the voters that they have not only become the party of elites and townspeople.
So when lawmakers on the left flank of the party pushed to make a $ 15 minimum wage a top priority this year, the Democratic leaders got on board, believing it could indicate the party's commitment to working people. Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, gave it his strong support, and President Biden included the proposal in his proposal for a $ 1.9 trillion emergency aid to Covid-19, along with the now-standard stimulus checks and unemployment extension.
"There should be a national minimum wage of $ 15 an hour," Biden said last month as he prepared to enter the Oval Office. "No one who works 40 hours a week should live below the poverty line."
Polls show that an increase to $ 15 an hour is popular – sixty-one percent of Americans, in a Quinnipiac University poll released this month said they supported it, including 63 percent of independents and a majority of voters across all major income brackets.
But the Democratic Party is still not fully united – and in an equally divided Senate, the Democrats need total unity. Two centrist lawmakers, Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have indicated that they are unwilling to support an increase to $ 15 an hour because they think it is too high.
“At the end of the day, we're still struggling with our 50th vote representing a state that went ahead of Trump by about 40 points,” Sean McElwee, a founder of Data for Progress, a strategy firm that advises top Democrats on the topic. Congress, Manchin said.
So then the Senate MP ruled yesterday that a $ 15 raise was out of place in a bill passed through the budgetary reconciliation process – a decision requiring at least 60 votes to pass and therefore be dead upon arrival in the Senate – it White House was reported to have a sigh of relief. The Covid-19 bill will now pass without a blanket increase in the minimum wage. (Democrats are exploring other partial solutions, including corporate tax incentives to get them to raise their own wage floor to $ 15.)
But without a general pay rise, observers in and around the Democratic Party say, this issue is unlikely to go away. It remains a top priority for progressives as well as Democratic leaders like Schumer and Biden, who both objected – at least publicly – to the MP's announcement.
"The minimum wage is very popular," said McElwee. "I really think if I was Joe Biden, I would run for re-election because the average employee earns a lot more for being president than before."
McElwee pointed out that referendums on minimum wage ballots are popular in several swing states – much more so than Democratic candidates on the same ballots. In Sinema's home state of Arizona, voters in 2016 raised the state's minimum wage by a 58 percent majority to $ 12 an hour, even as the state backed Trump over Hillary Clinton. In 2020, Florida voted even more vigorously to raise the state's minimum wage to $ 15, with 61 percent in favor.
"What we saw in Florida is that a $ 15 minimum wage is more than 10 points more popular than Democratic elects," McElwee said. "It's an open and closed business."
Strategist Simon Rosenberg – whose moderate New Democrat Network is often at odds with Data for Progress's vision for the Democratic Party – said he saw a minimum wage hike as a winning issue with voters, including those towards the center. Rosenberg called the seemingly unanimous opposition of Republican lawmakers a political "mistake". But he also noted that Republican-led messaging campaigns have been building opposition to the idea of minimum wage hikes for decades.
"The investment of right-wing business interests in demonizing the minimum wage has been one of the most consistent projects of the right in the last generation," Rosenberg said, referring to major donors such as Charles Koch. "It's a touchstone issue."
This month's Quinnipiac poll found that despite its widespread popularity, a $ 15 minimum wage remained highly unpopular with Republicans, who opposed it with a 2-to-1 ratio. White people without college degrees, Trump's base, were more evenly distributed: 47 percent in favor, 51 percent against.
Manchin's state leans politically away from him; it had never voted as far as Republican president as it did in 2016 and 2020. So he cannot afford to ignore the effects the anti-pay rise campaign has had on major Republican voters.
Rosenberg said if Democrats were able to polish their brand by passing other major legislation targeting workers and families, it could bode well for a minimum wage hike – even in West Virginia. “I think Joe Manchin wants to be with the Democrats as much as possible, and to do that, he has to resist them in certain respects,” he said. "Six months from now, when the Covid package is popular and the economy returns, Manchin will have a lot more room to run."