Poll: Michigan voters support minimum wage hike

LANSING, Mich. (Detroit Free Press) -- Raising the minimum wage from its current level of $7.40 per hour gets widespread support among Michigan voters, but the final amount and means of getting there has people split, according to an exclusive poll done for the Detroit Free Press, WXYZ-TV (Channel 7) and our statewide media polling partners.

A proposed ballot initiative to gradually raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour by 2017, and to $10.10 per hour for tipped workers like bartenders or waitresses by 2023, got support from 56% of those surveyed while 39% opposed the hike and 5% were undecided, according to the poll of 600 likely voters done May 17-20 by EPIC-MRA of Lansing. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

The Raise Michigan coalition, which is spearheading the petition drive, plans to turn the signatures they've gathered over to the Secretary of State on Wednesday. They need 258,088 valid signatures from registered voters to qualify for the ballot and will have a significant cushion of signatures beyond the required amount, said Frank Houston, state director for the Restaurant Opportunities Center, one of the members of the coalition.

"The biggest thing we're hearing out on the street is that there are so many people who are telling us they've already signed the petition," he said. "There is very strong support out there for the issue."

If the pay hike option is a proposal currently before the Legislature to raise the hourly rate to $9.20 per hour for traditional minimum wage workers and to $3.50 per hour for tipped employees, the poll shows support is still there, but lower with 49% supporting it, 42% opposing and 9% undecided. The legislative proposal would also tie the wage to the rate of inflation, meaning the hourly rate could go up higher.

That measure has already passed the Senate and will go before the House Government Operations committee at 8:30 a.m. today. But state Rep. Pete Lund, R-Shelby Township, chairman of the committee, would like to see the link with the rate of inflation taken out — a measure that could cause it to lose support from Democrats and ultimately kill the bill.

What the poll respondents didn't support was the method used by Republican lawmakers to put the measure before the Legislature. The legislative proposal repeals the existing minimum wage law, which would pre-empt the ballot initiative because the law the Raise Michigan coalition wants to change would no longer exist.

"There is such a fear among Republicans of having a (minimum wage) ballot proposal in November, that they're trying to figure out a way to avoid that from happening," said Bernie Porn, president of EPIC/MRA. "The blatant way they're dealing with it — by eliminating the law — is meeting with great disfavor, even among Republican (respondents).

"They could pay a price this election by trying to get it off the ballot."

All demographic groups opposed the legislative tactic, with 54% of the people surveyed against the move, while 29% approved of the deal that could scuttle the ballot proposal. Some 17% were undecided.

Republicans have reason to fear the ballot proposal: Support for the $10.10 wage hike was strong from Democrats (83%), African Americans (97%), Independents (56%) and women (61%). And the GOP is trying to court many of those groups this election season.

Those surveyed who identified themselves as Republicans really didn't like the proposal, opposing it by a 68%-25% margin. Respondents who identify with the tea party were even more opposed with 73% against the hike and 24% supporting it.

The top reasons for opposing the minimum wage hike was that the hike would increase the cost of all goods and services and would hurt Michigan's economy.

Linda Ahnert, 68, of Grayling said she doesn't want to see the wage hiked because it will have an impact on the cost of just about everything she buys.

"It seems like every time they raise it, everything else goes up, too. I just don't see how we're supposed to get ahead," said Ahnert, who stayed at home, raising five kids, describing her work as "unpaid labor."

"It's not that I'm against people getting ahead, but it just seems that we're working twice as hard for the stuff that we need," she added.

If the people surveyed had to choose between the two different proposals, support was pretty evenly split with 39% supporting the $10.10 ballot proposal and 38% supporting the legislative option to raise the minimum wage to $9.20 per hour. Some 18% preferred neither option and 5% were undecided.

But Houston said the group's internal polling shows similar results to the strong support for the $10.10 proposal.

"People think the minimum wage needs to be raised," he said. "And regardless of the shenanigans going on in Lansing, they want to sign the petition. They get that our proposal does a better job of rewarding hard work with fair pay."

Opposition from business for the $10.10 proposal is almost universal. And there is little support for the Senate proposal to raise the rate to $9.20 from the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, small business owners and the Michigan Restaurant Association, primarily because the minimum wage would be tied to inflation rates.

"It's a win-win for Democrats to get it on the ballot because there's such an intensity of support, it could drive turnout," Porn said. "But it's a real loser for Republicans if it's on the ballot, which provides even further reason why the Republicans are trying to come up with some sort of agreement that will get it off the ballot."


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