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Mary P. Traverse
If minimum-wage opponents weren't already shitting bricks, they're in for an awfully uncomfortable bowel movement: A new poll finds a stunning 68 percent of Seattle voters support a straight-up hike in the city's minimum wage to $15 an hour. No exemptions, no phase-ins, no strings attached.
The news for opponents only gets worse the further you delve into the details: 35 percent of voters "strongly support" the proposal, compared to only 14 percent who "strongly oppose," while support holds fast throughout the city and in every demographic subgroup except Republicans.
And in case opponents were hoping to console themselves with the thought that this is just some shoddy pro-labor propaganda (the poll was funded by a coalition that includes Working Washington, UFCW 21, Nick Hanauer, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, the Teamsters, and the MLK County Labor Council), well, no luck there. The survey of 805 likely Seattle voters—an unusually large and robust sample—was conducted January 14 through January 22 by the reputable polling firm EMC Research, with a margin of error of ± 3.5 percentage points.
These numbers may be off the charts, but they're rock solid.
"We were certainly surprised," admits EMC Research principal Andrew Thibault about the unexpectedly positive results, "but it seems that there is a tipping point." Thibault believes that the $15 campaign in SeaTac, the fast-food strikes, and the embrace of the issue by winning candidates like Council Member Kshama Sawant and Mayor Ed Murray last year have all increased awareness and support for the issue.
But Thibault suspects another factor may have come into play, one beyond the control of either side of the debate: Seattle's surging sense of self-confidence. According to the survey, 63 percent of Seattle voters believe the city is "going in the right direction," up from 53 percent in September and 43 percent in 2011. "That's a crazy number," says Thibault.
But perhaps more impressive is the "wrong track" number, which has plummeted to just 19 percent. "There's a tremendous amount of optimism in the city," says Thibault.
And that optimism may help explain why even when a narrow majority agree with one of the leading talking points against raising the minimum wage, it doesn't move the dial very far. For example, 51 percent of voters actually agree that "increasing the minimum wage will hurt local small, minority owned, and family owned businesses." But at the same time, 71 percent of voters also agree that a higher minimum wage would "help" local businesses "because more workers making more money means they will have money to spend at local businesses."
Seattle voters aren't ignoring the concerns of small businesses; they have simply determined that the benefits of a higher minimum wage outweigh the costs: 82 percent agree that raising the minimum wage "ensures more families can make ends meet and get ahead," while only 40 percent call it a "job killer." Seattle voters simply aren't moved by the classic argument that a higher minimum wage would shutter businesses and destroy jobs. "People right now aren't buying it," says Thibault.
And neither are they buying efforts to water down the ordinance. The survey tested tip credits, small-business exemptions, and applying the wage only to certain industries, none of which increased voter support. A three-year phase-in does bump up support to 73 percent, but stretch the phase-in to five years, and both overall support (67 percent) and intensity (28 percent "strongly") begin to erode.
By contrast, provisions that strengthen worker protections consistently increase support: all the way up to 88 percent support for requiring that all tips go to workers.
All of this means that if the city council and the mayor ultimately back a compromise measure that's too weak (phased in too slowly or containing too many exemptions), activists can feel confident taking a more aggressive measure to the ballot this fall knowing that voters are resoundingly behind them.
That is the sound of bricks hitting porcelain in executive washrooms citywide.