The 2006 election has involved a number of sensitive issues for voters, from the debate on illegal immigration to the fight over gay marriage. The Rocky Mountain News and CBS4 have teamed up to poll Coloradans on several ballot issues in play this year, and polls have also been done on a number of big issues that are not directly addressed by ballot measures, such as illegal immigration.
What I found most interesting in the polls is that there is one issue that Coloradans overwhelmingly agree on, and it isn’t the issue I would have suspected. Raising the minimum wage is supported by 74 percent of respondents in the Rocky Mountain News/CBS4 poll. More people support raising the minimum wage from $5.15 per hour to $6.85 per hour than support or oppose gay marriage or legalizing marijuana. More people support raising the minimum wage than support or oppose any number of measures addressing illegal immigration. More than any other issue, raising the minimum wage is where Coloradans come together most.
I also support raising the minimum wage, but I’m surprised that nearly three-quarters of Coloradans agree with me. Given the relative power of the business community and Republican efforts to frame raising the minimum wage as an idea that will hurt business, I figured support would hover somewhere in the 50s for this issue. I thought this would be the case because the Colorado legislature has failed for years in trying to raise the minimum wage; Republican and business interests have always stopped any bill before it could get too far, which gave the impression that there was a relatively vocal opposition to the issue out there somewhere.
I guess not.
What happened? I think the charge that raising the minimum wage would hurt business was one of those proverbial dogs that won’t hunt. People just don’t buy that argument, in part because many people don’t know anyone who does earn minimum wage. I see ‘now hiring’ signs at McDonald’s that offer more than $7.00 per hour to start, which leads me to believe – completely non-scientifically, of course – that many companies are already paying more than minimum wage anyway. Those examples make me think that raising the minimum wage isn’t a dicey issue – it’s almost a non-issue. In other words, I would support this anyway, but I also don’t really see any harm in voting yes.
I also think this is a non-issue for many people who are middle- and upper-class. Many people don’t know anyone who earns the minimum wage, so when you ask them if it should be raised, they say, ‘Yeah, sure, whatever.” What do you care? It doesn’t affect you.
It’s interesting to me that this logic could be applied to the minimum wage debate but it isn’t applied to the gay marriage debate. If you don’t know anyone who earns minimum wage, and you don’t know anyone who might be harmed by a potential raise, then you are probably just inclined to vote in favor of an increase because, hey, what do you care? But if you don’t know a gay couple who want to get married, and you don’t know anyone who has been harmed by a gay couple who are married (and there’s no way you could know this, because gay marriage is already illegal in Colorado), then why would you even be interested in banning gay marriage (again)? What do you care? It doesn’t affect you.