The VPR - Vermont PBS Poll shows a majority of Vermonters favor raising the state minimum wage to $15 per hour — and Democrats hope popular support for the wage increase will lead to electoral gains in November.
When Democrats and Progressives in the House and Senate passed a bill earlier this year that would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, they knew full well that Gov. Phil Scott would veto the legislation.
That didn’t stop Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe from laying into the Republican governor the day after he made that veto official.
“What Gov. Scott did with his veto of the minimum wage yesterday was tell tens of thousands of people who show up for work every day making minimum wage, ‘You’re on your own. Your government leaders aren’t here to increase your wages,’” Ashe said in May.
Democrats have long believed that Scott’s opposition to the $15 minimum wage can be exploited as an electoral vulnerability. Data from the new VPR - Vermont PBS Poll suggests they may be right.
Fifty-four percent of Vermonters say they support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. And while 15 percent of respondents oppose a minimum wage increase, 25 percent of those polled said they favor an increase to something less than $15.
Two percent of the poll respondents even said they favor raising the minimum wage to an amount more than $15.
“By a considerable majority, Vermont voters would like to see the minimum wage increased,” said Middlebury College Professor Emeritus Eric Davis.
Davis said he doesn’t think Scott’s opposition to the $15 wage will be his undoing in November.
But Democrats are also looking to pick up seats in the House of Representatives, where a gain of a half-dozen seats could give them a veto-proof majority.
And in battleground districts, like St. Albans City, St. Johnsbury and Morristown, Davis said support for a $15 per hour wage could give Democratic candidates a boost.
“These are all going to be decided by very small margins, maybe 50 to 100 votes at most, so if Democrats can use the minimum wage issue to mobilize voters, get them to turn out, vote for a Democratic candidate for the House, that could make the difference,” Davis said.
The Vermont GOP’s communications director, Mike Donohue, said Vermonters’ response to the poll question isn’t all that surprising.
“If you ask Vermonters where they stand on raising the minimum wage, they’re going to say, ‘Yes.’ That’s understandable,” Donohue said.
Supply respondents with more context — like that fact that Vermont would be one of the few jurisdictions to adopt a $15 minimum wage — and Donohue said voter sentiment will become more mixed.
“When you put in a high-wage level like that just to start, as a starting wage, you’re hurting small job creators most of all,” Donohue said.
A deeper dig into the poll numbers shows that support for the minimum wage isn’t so decisive among an important electoral demographic — the “true independent.”
While 46 percent of independents say they favor the $15 minimum wage, 17 percent favor no increase at all and 29 percent favor an increase to something less than $15 an hour.
Still, Vermont Democratic Party Executive Director Josh Massey said the overall numbers indicate the issue is a winning one for Democrats in 2018.
“That is a substantial number of Vermonters that are in support of getting it up to $15 an hour, so I would say that carries a lot of weight going towards the legislative session,” Massey said.
Democrats who support the wage increase may have trouble winning over conservatives, however. According to the poll, only about a quarter of Vermonters who identify as Republicans say they support the $15 minimum wage.
The VPR - Vermont PBS Poll asked hundreds of Vermonters questions to learn where they stand on key issues and how they feel about candidates for statewide office. Explore the full results of the July 2018 poll here.