In One Area, at Least, Obama is Winning

Blocked on the federal level, Obama's push to increase the minimum wage is resonating in red states.

While you were focused on how little President Barack Obama has been utilized in the 2014 campaign cycle, one of the top agenda items of his second term looks like it is quietly gaining ground on the state level. 

Obama's push for federal legislation to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour from $7.25 has fallen flat, but his administration's work on the state and local level looks like it may help produce wage increases in Nebraska, Arkansas, Alaska and South Dakota. Polling on state ballot initiatives are sparse, but all signs point a good night for the proposals. In South Dakota, a recent poll put the support for the measure among likely voters at 60 percent. In Arkansas it was 69 percent.  Alaska polling has shown support above 60 percent.  Illinois voters will consider a non-binding referendum on the matter, as well.

Obama has made little headway on moving a federal increase through Congress, but his aides have made clear from the start that they would pursue the increase in a dual-tracked way: both through efforts in Washington, and through support on the state and local level for party-aligned organizations pushing for changes via ballot initiatives. 

The result of that push, shouldered heavily by progressive movements on the ground in cities and states around the country, is laid out in good detail by Katrina vanden Heuvel here. It's worth noting that the states where minimum wage initiatives are likely to pass aren't exactly Obama strongholds. Polls consistently find fairly substantial support for an increase, especially as income gaps have become more pronounced in recent years.

Much of the business community remains opposed to a federal increase on the grounds that it would cut their ability to hire new workers and invest in their businesses. Republicans have portrayed the federal push a political agenda item, pushed by Democrats as an election year ploy to boost turnout. 

In April, Senate Democrats were unable to move forward on legislation to increase the minimum wage after failing to bring enough Republicans to their side in order to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to advance the measure. House Republicans did not consider a bill. 

Of course, all of this doesn't mean a federal change to the minimum wage is coming any time soon. But in a rough electoral climate for Democrats, the White House can absolutely take credit for bringing the minimum wage issue to the attention of many voters and the result looks like it's going to produce something Democrats may not get a whole lot on on Election Day: wins. 

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.