Americans want to raise the minimum wage, but not the way DC thinks

Americans want to raise the minimum wage, but not the way DC thinks

Wage Increase

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By now, it is well documented that Americans favor raising the federal minimum wage from the current $7.25/hour, where it has been stuck since the summer of 2009. When voters are asked if they favor a federal minimum wage hike, overwhelming majorities (74% in an April Rasmussen poll) favor an increase. In fact, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump (in a reversal of a previous position) have said that they would support a raise in the minimum wage.

With broad agreement that the wage floor should be raised, it is more of question of how wages should be increased as opposed to if they should be increased. National polls have shown far less consensus among Americans as to what a wage hike should look like. Huffington Post/YouGov polling from April showed 51% favored a $15 minimum wage, 24% prefer a $12 minimum wage, and 18% favored a $10.10 floor.  

We fielded a nationwide poll of 1,000 respondents from June 22 to 28, 2016. Our polling is the first to test a regional cost-of-living based approach to the federal minimum wage against that of the $15 minimum wage proposal. Our polling showed that while a slight majority would go along with a single $15 minimum wage (51% favor, 46% oppose), voters decidedly prefer a federal minimum wage increase based on the cost-of-living in a local area (61% favor, 35% oppose).

Here’s what our data found:


The idea that a federal minimum wage should be applied at different amounts in different regions, depending on the cost of living in an area, has been proposed1 but this idea had never been tested nationally—until now. And the result was striking: a regional increase shows great resonance with voters in the current political environment.

The preference for a wage hike approach based on local cost-of-living is even more pronounced when looking at key swing subgroups.

  • Among generic ballot persuadables (those without a party-based voting pattern), a majority oppose a $15 minimum wage (44% favor, 50% oppose), but they favor a federal wage hike by cost-of-living by a 25-point margin (59% favor, 34% oppose), a 31-point swing in support.
  • Independents soundly oppose a $15 minimum wage (43% favor, 54% oppose), but when presented with a federal minimum wage based on local costs, they are in strong support (58% favor, 39% oppose), a 30-point swing in support.
  • Self-described moderates support a $15 minimum wage by a slim margin (51% favor, 48% oppose), but support the cost-differentiated approach by a nearly 2-to-1 margin (65% favor, 34% oppose), a 28-point up-swing.


Voters in swing districts narrowly support a $15 minimum wage (50% favor, 45% oppose), but support a federal floor based on cost of living by a 22-point margin (59% favor, 37% oppose). Even voters in Republican districts support a federal cost-based approach (56% favor, 42% oppose), while opposing a $15 minimum wage (42% favor, 56% oppose), a 28-point swing in support.

Of those that opposed a $15 minimum wage but supported a federal minimum based on cost-of-living, 41% were from the South.


While it may not be surprising that those in major urban areas were in strongest support of the $15 minimum wage proposal (59% favor 37% oppose), these voters were also the strongest supporters of a cost-based approach to federal minimum wage by over a 2-to-1 margin (67% favor 31% oppose). Among those in non-major urban areas, voters were split on a $15 minimum wage (48% favor 49% oppose) but were strongly supportive of a cost-based approach (59% favor 37% oppose).


While support for the idea of a federal minimum wage hike is strong, current approaches have ignored the differences between economies from one part of the United States to another. Voters have a natural appreciation for the reality that costs vary from one area of the country to another. With the understanding that the value of a dollar differs from one city to another, voters express a strong preference for an approach that takes this into account and applies a wage that is appropriate for the economic context of each area. The clear advantage for a minimum wage based on local cost of living over the $15 effort highlights an opportunity for lawmakers to re-think the federal minimum wage debate.


  1. Eric Morath, “One Solution for the Federal Minimum Wage: Five Minimum Wages,” Blog, The Wall Street Journal, February 11, 2016. Accessed August 31, 2016. Available at:


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