A new poll released today suggests low-wage workers could make up a powerful new voting bloc — one motivated to register in droves in upcoming elections if a candidate promises a wage hike.
The national survey, commissioned by the liberal-leaning National Employment Law Project, asked nearly 2,300 workers making less than $15 an hour how candidates' positions on the minimum wage and labor rights would affect their decision to participate.
Of those who are not currently registered to vote, 45% said they would either definitely or probably register if there was a candidate supporting a $15 minimum wage and a union for all workers. Of all registered voters, 65% said they would be more likely to vote in the 2016 presidential election if there was such a candidate.
YouGov and Harris Panel conducted the online polling, and the targeted respondents were U.S. citizens working at least 10 hours per week, holding at least one non-union job paying less than $15 an hour.
"Our research shows that these issues could not only push millions of often disaffected, low turnout voters to show up on election day, but could also motivate millions of new low-wage voters to register to vote across the country," wrote the study's authors.
An estimated 42% of American workers earn less than $15 an hour, NELP says, with women and people of color overrepresented in the group. More than half of African-American workers and almost 60% of Latino workers earn less than $15.
Donna Victoria of Victoria Research & Consulting, the pollster who managed the project, said low-income workers are rarely targeted in polling. One challenge in such a survey is breaking out low-income workers from all low-income people, a group that typically includes many non-working elderly.
The needs and motivations of those who are younger and trying to raise a family are naturally different from, say, low-income retirees or veterans, Victoria said. But the demographic is rarely surveyed or polled independently.
"We decided we wanted to talk to the people themselves," she said. "A revolutionary idea — let's directly ask what these workers think."
More than any demographic surveyed in recent memory, low-wage workers have good opinions of unions. A Gallup poll from August 2015 showed a significant uptick in approval of unions to 58% amongst the general population; this poll found, among low-wage workers, the rate is even higher — nearly three quarters (72%) approve, "a level higher than any Gallup poll has recorded for the general population since 1959," according to the report's authors.
In addition to high approval of unions, the poll found that low-wage workers have high rates of knowledge about the Fight for 15, the national campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. More than half of those surveyed said they knew about the effort, and 75% said they supported its goals — both wages of $15 an hour and the right to form a union.
Victoria, who has been conducting surveys and polls for a variety of clients since 1989, said that though she hasn't seen a great deal of research on this specific group in the past, the poll could help establish benchmarks for future studies. "This is the first-ever deep dive in recent times asking this demographic what they think," she said.