The Ballot Initiative Strategy Center is counting on the Federal Minimum Wage Increase as a “wedge issue” for the Democrats. Research shows that there is widespread popular support for a federal increase, although most Republicans oppose it. They’re calling it a “hot-button issue.” They say:

As more national activists on the Right and Left begin to utilize the initiative process as a strategic tool for electoral gain, ballot measures lose more of their local flavor and become homogenized across the country. This environment makes an analysis of the top trends even more important . . . 2004 survey research shows that the popularity of the minimum wage provides progressives with an excellent strategy to rebound from the conservative domination of ballot measures. The minimum wage initiatives in Nevada and Florida were particularly motivating to younger women, new registrants, non-college women, Democratic men, low-income voters, and independent voters in
Nevada. These are voters who are often fairly difficult to mobilize.

It’s certainly an important issue, but is it a hot button issue? While most people are sympathetic to low-paid workers and the impossibility of getting by on such a low wage, unless they own a business that employs a lot of minimum wage workers, it costs them nothing to support it. So why not? But how strongly do they feel about it? Abortion rights and gay marriage are emotional issues that speak to people’s fundamental ideas about what is right and what is wrong. Attitudes about sexual behavior are deeply instilled in most people and are often tied to their religious beliefs; in other words, they are core values. Unless Democrats can find an issue with similar emotional impact, they will not succeed in the “wedge issue” game. Stem cell research is a possibility if it can be adequately explained and defended. Rather than seeking wedge issues, however, the Democrats need to stop using caution and must aggressively attack Republican failings. They must offer a true alternative, not more of the same.

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