Kentucky voters favor raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour by a two-to-one margin, spelling potential trouble for Republicans this November.
According to the first of six Herald-leader/WKYT Bluegrass Polls this year, 61 percent of registered voters are in favor of raising the minimum wage, while 32 percent oppose.
"What I'd love to see is for all of our governing bodies to have to live on minimum wage, what it is currently," said poll respondent Rebecca Rawlings, a 55-year-old in Elizabethtown who agreed to a follow-up interview. "I feel like we have really gotten out of touch with the common man and what is coming on in our country. People are hurting."
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, is spearheading an effort to increase the minimum wage this year in Kentucky. His bill won approval in the Democratic-led House 55-44 on Thursday but is expected to die in the Republican-led Senate. The state proposal mirrors legislation in Washington and will undoubtedly be a hot-button campaign issue this fall.
It already looks to be a key dividing point in the potential fall matchup between Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell must first face a Republican primary challenge from Louisville businessman Matt Bevin.
Speaking on Fox News Sunday last month, McConnell said he believes raising the minimum wage would reduce the number of jobs, and "we ought to be doing things that create more jobs."
Following the lead of national Democrats, Grimes has made raising the minimum wage one of the main themes of her campaign, daring McConnell to go all-in on what is an unpopular stance for Republicans.
"That's a position she'll have an easy time selling," said Stephen Voss, a political science professor at the University of Kentucky. "It's incredibly popular with the groups already leaning her way, such as young voters and liberal Democrats. Raising the minimum wage wins support among moderate swing voters, and it's even popular with some groups she'd normally have to fight harder to attract, such as high-income voters and voters in Eastern Kentucky."
The poll, conducted in partnership with the Courier-Journal and WHAS-TV in Louisville, found that 73 percent of Democrats support the wage hike, along with 59 percent of independents and 45 percent of Republicans.
Survey USA interviewed 1,082 registered voters from Jan. 30 to Feb. 3. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.
Support for raising the minimum wage is highest in the eastern part of the state, with 65 percent of respondents in favor. That compares with 64 percent in the north-central region, which includes Lexington, 62 percent in Louisville and surrounding areas, and 51 percent in Western Kentucky.
Voss noted that the Eastern Kentucky response on minimum wage is "one of the few issues on which that region is notably more liberal than other parts of the state," but he said it's in line with the region's "broader tendency toward populism."
"They're very conservative on social issues such as gay marriage or even medical marijuana, but they tend to look much more like Democrats when you shift to economic and budgetary issues," Voss said.
The poll also found that women, young voters and black voters were more supportive of raising the minimum wage overall.
Among women, 65 percent were in favor of raising pay, compared with 55 percent of men. Sixty-nine percent of those under the age of 35 favored the wage hike, compared with 58 percent for those between the ages of 35 and 64.
A super majority of black voters — 81 percent — support raising the minimum wage, while 59 percent of white voters support it.
"The politics of the minimum wage just about always favors Democrats," Voss said. "It's very easy to identify who benefits from increasing the wage, and it's easy to justify the policy in emotional terms as support for the working poor. The negative results attributed to raising the minimum wage are much harder to pin down, so they just seem like abstractions."