The Fight for $15 in the Era of Trump: Where Does the Public Stand?

Insights from The Opportunity Agenda

“Predictable schedules and predictable paychecks should be a right, not a privilege.”

These words from Mayor Bill de Blasio last week marked the passage the Fair Workweek bills - a package of bills designed to ensure more predictable schedules and paychecks for fast-food and retail workers in New York City. The Fair Workweek bills represent the latest in a series of victories for advocates fighting for the rights of low-wage workers across the country. The recent release of Trump’s budget, which proposes widespread cuts to public services, has left many anti-poverty advocates and policymakers wondering where their issues stand in the new Trump era. Despite this somewhat bleak outlook, findings from public opinion research indicate that the dream of $15 is still very much alive.

Public Perceptions of the Economy

With promises to put “America First,” “drain the swamp,” and challenge “arrogant elites,” Donald Trump based his successful presidential campaign on populist messages that spoke to many Americans’ growing discontent with the state of the economy and equal opportunity. As seen in the chart below, exit polls show that perceptions of the economy and people’s own financial well-being were important deciding factors in the outcome of the 2016 presidential election[1]. Individuals who voted for Donald Trump were significantly more likely than people who voted for Hillary Clinton to believe that conditions of the nation’s economy are poor, that their family’s financial situations are worse off today, and that trade with other countries takes away jobs from the U.S.[2]

Graph showing support for the Fight for 15

Going into the election, these sentiments were coupled with what appeared to be a growing dissatisfaction with fairness of the economy and the American Dream.

Between 2014 and 2015, the percentage of Americans agreeing with the statement “poor people have fewer opportunities to be successful than others” increased from 52 percent to 62 percent.[3] The percentage agreeing with the statement “business corporations do not share enough of their success with their employees” increased from 69 percent in 2014 to 88 percent as of late 2015. In addition, the percentage of Americans agreeing with the statement “the economic system in this country unfairly favors the wealthy” increased from 66 percent in 2012 to 79 percent in 2015.[4]

At the same time, Americans’ faith in the principle of the American Dream—defined as achieving financial security, self-sufficiency, a good job, and home ownership—is at a five-year low. As of 2015, only 3 in 10 (33 percent) of surveyed Americans said that the American Dream still holds true, compared to 57 percent who say it once held true but does not anymore, and 10 percent who said it never held true.[5] White Americans (45 percent) and Latinos (42 percent) are more likely than Black Americans (31 percent) to believe that the American Dream still holds true today, while Black Americans are more likely than any other racial or ethnic group to say that the American Dream never held true (14 percent).[6]

Image of the Fight for 15 logo and the percentage of its supporters

Critically, public support for an increase in the national minimum wage has increased significantly in recent years. As of 2015, three-quarters (76 percent) of Americans support raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour—a nine-point increase compared to 2010 when 67 percent of Americans were in favor and a 7-point increase since 2013 (69 percent).[7] The majority (59 percent) of Americans also support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Finally, latest figures from a recent Center for American Progress study indicate that the majority of Americans (64 percent) agree that “the government should ensure that all families have access to basic living standards like health care, nutrition, and housing if their wages are too low or they can’t make ends meet.”[8]

Alongside rising public support, on April 4th the Movement for Black Lives and the Fight for 15 began a series of joint marches aimed at uplifting the intersection of racial justice and economic justice – and the pressing need for coordinated resistance in the new political landscape. Just this week, Bernie Sanders and a team of top congressional Democrats introduced a $15 minimum wage bill, which seeks to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2024. Taken together, it is clear that there is still hope for a national raise to the minimum wage.

Our latest messaging guidance provides practical tips for those seeking to build on the already high levels of public support for an increase to the national minimum wage. Messaging recommendations include:

  • Telling affirmative stories about people experiencing poverty and the reasons for it;
  • Focusing on shared values and messaging to uplift each other’s voices and concerns;
  • Focusing on the real-world economic challenges many Americans are currently facing, and framing a rise to the national minimum wage as a much needed solution.

[1] New York Times, “Election 2016: Exit Polls,” November 2016.

[2] New York Times, “Election 2016: Exit Polls.”

[3] Anat Shenker-Osorio, Lake Research Partners, “Towards a Good Jobs Agenda: Economic Justice Messaging Research,” July 2015.

[4] Public Religion Research Institute, American Values Survey, November 2015: more TK.

[5] NBC Poll, October 2015.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Public Religion Research Institute, American Values Survey, 2015.

[8] Center for American Progress, “Message Research – Economy and Working Class”, April 2017.