One of President Barack Obama’s signature issues at the moment is a push to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour. It’s such a popular policy, he said in a speech on March 5, 2014, that even Republicans have little quarrel with it.
"When I talk about (raising the) minimum wage," Obama said, "not only is it good policy, but the majority of the country, including half of Republicans, agree with it."
We wondered whether polling data backed up this claim. So we looked at independent polls taken recently that asked about the minimum wage.
A review of the polling data suggests a more nuanced situation than Obama’s claim suggests.
Our first look at the data showed that a minimum-wage hike is popular among Americans broadly. For instance, when the CBS News-New York Times poll asked, "Do you favor or oppose raising the minimum wage to $10.10?" in February 2014, the poll found 65 percent support. And that was actually down a bit from the 72 percent support registered in the January edition of the poll.
Similarly, a Pew Research Center/USA Today poll from January asked whether respondents supported an "increase in the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour" and found 73 percent support.
But what about Republicans specifically? More than half of Republicans favor a minimum-wage increase, polls found, but in most of these polls, less than half of Republicans supported raising the wage to $10.10, the amount Obama is seeking.
One poll that did not specify a target amount for the minimum-wage hike was conducted by Quinnipiac University. It asked, "Would you support or oppose raising the national minimum wage, which is now $7.25 an hour?" Among Republicans, 52 percent expressed support, while 45 percent said they opposed it.
That provides some support to Obama’s claim. But once respondents were asked by other pollsters about the $10.10 figure -- a roughly 40 percent increase from today’s federal minimum wage -- Republican support sagged.
The clearest example is a CBS-New York Times poll from February that asked, "As you may know, the federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 an hour. Do you favor or oppose raising the minimum wage to $10.10?" Republicans expressed 42 percent support, 54 percent opposition.
Another clear example was an ABC News-Washington Post poll from December, 2013 that asked, "The minimum wage in this country is now $7.25 an hour. What do you think it should be?" Among Republicans, only 21 percent favored keeping it the same or lowering it, but even fewer respondents -- 7 percent -- favored a minimum wage in excess of $10.
Two other polls showed Republican support close to 50 percent, but falling just short. However, the differences were within the margin of sampling error -- it's possible that more than half of Republicans were in support of a $10.10 wage, though also possible that the actual support level was even lower than the official result.
A CBS-New York Times poll from January that asked the same question as the February poll found that Republicans expressed 48 percent support, 51 percent opposition to a $10.10 wage.
And an NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll from December 2013 asked, "I'm going to mention a number of different amounts and for each one, please tell me if you strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose raising the hourly minimum wage to that amount." When presented with the $10.10 rate, 47 percent of Republicans expressed support.
One poll clearly supported Obama’s position. The January Pew Research Center/USA Today poll found 53 percent of Republicans backing a $10.10 minimum wage, with 43 percent opposed.
The significance of the $10.10 figure is not academic. According to a March 6 account in the Washington Post, "early last year, White House strategists rejected (the $10.10 figure), worried that it could destroy jobs and anger the business community just as the regulation-heavy Affordable Care Act was about to take effect. Instead, former officials say, the White House settled on a more cautious path, unveiling a $9-an-hour minimum wage proposal — a target even lower than Obama had proposed during the 2008 campaign."
However, the Post reported, the lower amount "disappointed advocates for the working poor, as well as congressional Democrats, who were already pushing to set the $7.25 wage closer to $10 an hour. Over the past year, Obama reconsidered, casting off initial concerns in favor of unifying his party ahead of this fall’s midterm elections."
In other words, White House officials had long realized there was a difference in the degree of public support for a $10.10 minimum wage and a smaller hike, so it would be misleading for Obama to now imply that majority Republican support for an unspecified minimum-wage hike means that Republicans automatically support the president’s proposal to raise the wage to $10.10.
Obama said, "When I talk about (raising the) minimum wage ... half of Republicans agree with it." Republicans do support a minimum-wage hike if you don't specify a dollar figure. But once you mention the $10.10 target Obama wants, his case gets shakier. We rate the claim Mostly True.
Barack Obama, remarks at a Democratic National Committee dinner in Boston, March 5, 2014
Pollingreport.com, polls asking about the minimum wage, accessed March 6, 2014
CBS News-New York Times poll, Feb. 19-23, 2014
CBS News-New York Times poll, Jan 17-21, 2014
ABC News-Washington Post poll, December 2013
NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll, December 2013
Pew Research, "Most See Inequality Growing, but Partisans Differ over Solutions," Jan. 23, 2014
Quinnipiac national poll, Jan. 8, 2014
Wall Street Journal, "Support for $10.10 Minimum Wage," Dec. 11, 2013
Washington Post, "The inside story of how the White House learned to love the minimum wage," March 6, 2014
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